A parade of historical characters comes under investigation when an LAPD detective and his sister try to solve a mystery about their father.
Detective Tom Hickey had quite a dramatic life before he became a cop. After his father, Charlie, vanished—leaving Tom and his younger sister, Florence, with an abusive mother—Tom ran away with Florence when he was only 16. After a couple of other careers, he’s working under a corrupt police chief in 1936 Los Angeles. Tom has his wrangles with his boss, but he goes even further off course when Bud Gallagher, Tom’s last link to his father, brings him a manuscript Charlie wrote that another author published under his own name. Reading the manuscript gives Tom new insight into his father and new hope that he’s still alive. He’s determined to find out, even if it means jeopardizing his marriage, leaving his young daughter, running away from the law he swore to uphold and risking his own life. A bumpy meeting with Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, reveals that Charlie had been on a quest to find out the fate of the author Ambrose Bierce after he displeased the all-powerful William Randolph Hearst. The closer Tom and Florence get to Charlie’s connection to Hearst, the more they require help from Florence’s spiritual leader, evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. But the final answer to their questions about their father lies much closer to home in a tale that zigzags through time and across the country.
Kuhlken (The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles, 2010, etc.) overreaches by creating parallel investigations a generation apart and larding this middle-period Hickey family saga with real-life celebrities. It’s hard for the central character to hold his own against all that stellar competition.