This first story collection by mystery veteran Roberts, the creator of Hollywood actor/shamus Saxon and Cleveland investigator Milan Jacovich, whose name is forever mispronounced, is full of pleasantly understated surprises. Sure, the title story and “Willing to Work,” in which perfect murders come undone because of a single overlooked clue, are routine; so is “Angel of Death,” a miniature about an informant who isn’t as well protected as he thinks; and Milan’s one short outing to date, which finds him unsuccessfully working to protect a Klansman from danger before a Cleveland rally, has more heart than brains. But Saxon manages two surprising solutions in a pair of tidy whodunits, “Little Cat Feet” and “The Catnap,” written for the Cat Crimes anthologies. The buildup of tension from a pointless Burger King argument about Elvis Presley to murder most foul in “The Fat Stamp” is expertly managed, even if the final twist is telegraphed early and often. “Good Boys,” the tale of the grieving mother who goes on TV to denounce her sons’ probable killer, walks a fine line between pathos and cleverness. And “The Brave Little Costume Designer,” which updates the Brothers Grimm by taking fearless Oliver Jardiniere from the Martin Beck Theatre deep into the bosom of the New York mob by way of Damon Runyon and fashion sense, is shamelessly funny.
And old reliable at novel length (The Chinese Fire Drill, 2001, etc.) proves equally varied and adept in smaller doses in a volume that goes down quicker than the Cleveland sun.