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Back in 1980, with Cage of Mirrors, Ray initiated a hard-boiled-sleuth series featuring a tough Texas gumshoe; but the opening entry, which involved a psycho-villain and porno-movies, was too humdrum to warrant a follow-up. Now, in what is falsely billed as his writing ""debut,"" the author tries again--with a tough California gumshoe, a hand-me-down plot (more psycho-villains and porn-movies), and similarly run-of-the-mill results. The shamus this time is ex-cop, ex-soldier Matt Murdock, a standard issue macho type--hired to bodyguard Ellis Dean, who witnessed the Laguna Beach murder of his young mistress, would-be starlet Gayla Jean. (As the reader knows from the start, Gayla Jean and movie-star Jaime Modesto were incinerated--in Modesto's Trans Am--by the henchmen of shady art-dealer Philo Waddell.) Then Dean himself is murdered, and Murdock gets a new client: Gayla Jean's beautiful one-legged sister Meg--who has come from Texas to learn more about her dead sister's highly decadent life in California. Murdock sleuths, eventually learning (no surprise) about Gayla Jean's involvement in Waddell's sick porno-biz. There's much rough stuff along the way, culminating in shoot-outs, a chase, and the lurid kidnapping (complete with rape and cockfights) of Murdock's client Meg. And a long explanatory rehash--centering on Waddell's warped psyche--hardly helps matters. A little sex, patches of stagy dialogue, serviceable action: routine fare--particularly short on mystery, particularly heavy (but not very convincing) on California sleaze.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's