A hapless private eye and his kibitzing family investigate crimes of the heart (and worse) in this charmingly low-key mystery.
Thirty-seven-year-old college dropout Mike Levine lives with his mom while dabbling as a private detective in lieu of getting a steady job. He gets occasional work trailing faithless spouses, which leaves him free to indulge his obsession with historical trivia, like the locations of landscape features in the Mona Lisa and the subculture of Victorian women who wore pants (and the men who fetishized them.) His two passions collide when he is hired to investigate a woman who is possibly being forced into a marriage against her will, a scenario that echoes the saga of Gabrielle de Launay, an 18th-century Frenchwoman who faked her own death to escape her new husband and run off with a lover. As Mike delves into the deepening mystery, he gets assistance from his nattering, inquisitive and surprisingly savvy mother Estelle; his sister Rhonda, a reference librarian who complements her research skills with an unexpected knack for undercover work; and his irascible brother-in-law Ralph, a Boston cop who provides grudging support. Mike is realistic about his shortcomings as a detective: his trouble maintaining a cover story, thinking fast in tight spots or dealing with tough guys. His favorite method of working an informant is to simply blurt out that he’s a private detective and ask for help with the case. Through Mike’s humorous fumblings, English professor and first-time novelist Tropp wryly sends up the clichÃ© of the hard-bitten, omni-competent detective hero, replacing it with an exuberant gang of amateurs who repair to the dinner table to banter about the day’s sleuthing.
An engaging mystery with a likable cast of characters, a beguiling dash of historical romance and a fresh take on detective-story conventions.