A St. Louis police detective investigates a missing person case and finds the man’s disappearance linked to local political corruption.
In this St. Louis noir, disgraced police detective Lt. Carlo Gabriel sees the chance to make up for his sins by locating the missing husband of the mayor’s press secretary, Ellen Cantrell. Jonathan Stone had recently lost his adjunct teaching position at a local university where he was working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Mark Twain. Getting hold of the missing man’s files, Gabriel learns of Stone’s disaffection with current teaching methods and his possible discovery of corruption in the administration of Mayor Angelo Cira who, in another lifetime, was Gabriel’s partner on the police force. A clue embedded in the missing man’s dissertation leads the dogged Gabriel to Hannibal, Missouri, home of Samuel Clemens, where part of the mystery is solved. Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, another linked mystery unfolds when a member of the mayor’s inner circle is found dead, a suspicious suicide. Gabriel returns home to confront all those who stand between him and the truth, but will the effort cost him more than his badge? Skwiot’s detective novel is rooted in the pulp tradition that was created by Dashiell Hammett almost a century ago and refined over the decades by Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Robert B. Parker and others. His story takes place on the mean streets of St. Louis and involves a lurid cast of corrupt pols and complacent academics and at least one good man risking everything to do the right thing. The slick prose readily entertains (“When she arrived on the scene fresh out of J-school she was aggressive and confident and didn’t know a damn thing….I’d try to steer her in the right direction.…Not that I ever got any thanks for it”), but the plot resolves a bit too neatly. And there are no real surprises in this novel, which sometimes borrows heavily from other detective novels.
Well-executed but not all that original.