A World War II vet and a Chinese neighborhood leader look for a way to bring down a ruthless mobster in 1950s Los Angeles in Domreis’ debut mystery.
Crime boss Cal Schank is notorious for having amassed his wealth through dirty dealings. But his abuse of a beautiful Southern girl named Lorie Owens catches the cops’ full attention, and sympathetic Chinese leaders in New Chinatown help them arrest Schank for kidnapping and interstate prostitution. Later, one of the leaders, Ah Wing, calls on his friend, auto-equipment dealer and ex-soldier Earnest Lange, to help rescue another woman named Della from a South American prison, and ensure that Schank stays behind bars for a long time. Domreis’ California setting seems ideal for an old-fashioned detective story; characters make numerous suggestions that Lange should become a private eye, and Sherlock Holmes references abound. But instead of concentrating on Lange, the author chooses instead to flesh out a full cast of characters; he even provides the perspective of Schank’s right-hand man, Ruppert, when he’s gagged and thrown into the back seat of a car. Sometimes these supporting characters steal the limelight; at one point, for example, Schank’s estranged wife, Martha, and her physician begin a PG-rated affair, complete with silly doctor puns (“I prescribe we should spend a lot of time together”). Lange is a commendably honorable character, helping his landlady after her place has been ransacked and conceiving a rather brilliant plan to rescue Della, but he never quite takes on a gumshoe role. However, the story’s lack of a strong protagonist doesn’t hamper its suspense, as the specifics of Schank’s operation are gradually revealed—and a few dead bodies turn up along the way.
First-rate storytelling that propels an enticing plot.