Kelly’s (Clover Field, 2015, etc.) mystery offers an homage to classic crime novels of the 1930s and ’40s with this tribute to the work of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and other crime novelists.
In 1934 San Francisco (with all of its requisite fog), Riley Sullivan is a 27-year-old private investigator who seems a bit soft-boiled, at least for now. He drinks, smokes, and womanizes, drives a beat-up Pontiac, and lives on a houseboat on the Bay. A lawyer for the San Francisco Port Authority hires him to look into the heist of a delivery intended for Madame Dalyu Wu, the owner of a local gallery that deals in imported Chinese art: A shipment of statues from Shanghai was stolen at the port of entry. Riley, who’s barely scraping by, is happy to get the job, but right from the get-go, people involved in the case start dying—and eventually he uncovers a drug-smuggling ring. This is an adventure that has plenty of close shaves and gunplay, but the most entertaining elements of the novel are its colorful characters. For example, Riley’s main squeeze is Amy Morgan (a Miss California runner-up) who keeps him on “probation,” as she’s suspicious about his other possible dalliances. He also works with Bureau of Narcotics special agent Gina Gallo, who’s a deadly shot, as well as old flame Mellificent McNally, an ace reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. All the women are unsurprisingly described as gorgeous, but in a nice nod to the putative morality of classic crime fiction, there are no sex scenes here. Indeed, Kelly seems to be having a lot of fun with his homage, although readers may differ on whether some of his sendups are too over the top. It should be noted, though, that the text has its share of distracting mistakes, such as “pant’s pocket” and “ ‘Sit down, Sullivan,’ he smiled at me mendaciously”; at one point, Riley even calls McNally by the wrong name.
A fun, short read, despite some questionable errors.