From pretentious start to gothically convulted windup, this first outing for one-armed Toronto shamus J.K.G. Jantarro is overdone--but not without interest and promise. Jantarro starts out in the hospital, with partial amnesia, so it takes a while (fragmented flashbacks, etc.) to figure out what's going on: he's been hired, it seems, to help rich old Fritz Georg, whose 50-ish wife and adult retarded son have been kidnapped; but Jantarro's first run-in with the kidnappers has gone violently awry. And now, though Jantarro goes back to work, looking into rumors about Georg's gangland enemies, his efforts are futile: the barely recognizable, charred bodies of Mrs. Georg and son Hugo are found dumped in a railyard. Whodunit? Frail old Mr. Georg wants to know--so Jantarro stays on the job, uncovering the truth about Mr. G.'s Nazi past, about Mrs. G.'s extramarital love life, about her work as a nurse; more corpses (including that of Mrs. G.'s lesbian lover) turn up along the hectic way. And the shrill finale features two psychos, a major plot-twist (implausible), and escalating mayhem. Despite the labored excess: an above-average debut--thanks to handicapped Jantarro's nicely sardonic narration, his gritty circle of informants (including a gay seducer of cops), and sharp vignettes that offer momentary impact (even if they don't add up effectively).