Lively, character-driven crime novel that stretches from the Bronx to San Francisco’s Chinatown and features an emerald Buddha statue.
Family trouble draws ex-cop Nick Sasso away from New York and a thriving restaurant and back to his native San Francisco. His father Tony is too ill to keep an eye on the family business, another restaurant, and brother Joe may be stealing from the till. When an over-the-hill hit-man named Igor Sakharov gets the order to kill Joe but has a heart attack en route, the job falls to his brash, boastful brother Alexei, who gets wasted on vodka and blabs his story to a novice hooker named Jolie, then later does the same while visiting Igor in the hospital. Joe, meanwhile, is found shot in the office of lawyer Sonny Culp, also shot dead. Sonny (who was gay) leaves behind devoted lover Martin Fong, young daughter Emily, and ex-wife Wilhelmina, a.k.a. Billie, also a lawyer. The wisecracking Billie remained close to Sonny after their divorce and determines now to find his killer. Chief among many conundrums: What was the very ethical Sonny doing with sleazy Joe? Subplots and suspicions sprout. For starters: Joe was having an affair with crime queenpin Elaine Chang, known as the Black Widow of Chinatown. Joe’s spurned wife Gina admits to slipping out of a movie to spy on her husband at Culp’s office. Igor’s boss Victor Chornky lusts after Igor’s wife Eve and visits her with ill intent while “Iggy” is laid up. When Billie and Nick cross paths and compare notes pointing to the aforementioned emerald Buddha, they become unlikely cohorts and more unlikely lovers, since womanizing Nick favors girly-girls while Billie, at 40-plus, hates his macho swagger. Their odd coupling enlivens the story’s twisty final third considerably.
Kaiser’s prose (Jane Doe, 1999, etc.) can be windy, but he creates a taut plot and engrossing world of rich, flawed characters with adult problems.