As its title suggests, Bailey’s final novel is a valentine to the private-eye conventions that have seemed like clichés since about two weeks after they were presented as fresh and new a century ago.
Raymond Kerze can’t afford to be choosy about his clients. The only reason he can even afford to live in his office, after all, is that the building’s in foreclosure, and the city of Detroit doesn’t bother to bill its few remaining tenants for rent. But Ray really doesn’t want to take Misty Lake’s money. For one thing, she’s got only $11.60. For another, she’s offering it to him for killing her. Before she got laid off from her job as a waitress, she borrowed $500 from mobbed-up loan shark Benny Slick, and now her failure to keep up with the vig has ballooned her debt to $950, which might as well be a million. Since she’s Catholic, Misty can’t kill herself, though she seems to have no scruples about hiring Ray to push her out his office window (a no-go, since he’s on the second floor) or stand by as she provokes a pair of Aryan-tattooed skinheads lurking outside the building to stab her to death. As things work out, Misty doesn’t die, but Theodore Sorenson, one of the skinheads, does, unleashing mounting complications for Ray, Misty, Misty’s ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Enwright, Detective Tony Jackson, and Teddy’s skinhead pal John Doe, each of whom gets to tell part of the story. Or, if “story” is too strong a word, to present his or her carnival act in close-up before yielding to the next one and eventually to the final fade-out.
This pipe dream’s highly original narrative structure, consistently subordinating events to voices, allows Bailey (The Small Matter of Ten Large, 2012, etc.) and his readers to inhabit a series of characters that morph from cartoon tough guys and gals to people worth caring about once you get to see them from outside and inside.