The other stories promised by the subtitle are nothing more than a pair of six-year-old curtain-raisers for the main event, the 185-page 1981 novella “Karma.” In the first of the two opening acts, “The Court of Celestial Appeals,” Dunlap’s whimsically unnamed, ungendered Celestial Detective (The Celestial Buffet, 2001), an unwilling astral being appointed to investigate earthly crime, solves the murder of heaven’s newest arrival, huffy California senatorial candidate Judge Stone Girard. In “A Contest Fit for a Queen,” Dunlap’s regular sleuth, Berkeley cop Jill Smith (No Immunity, 1998, etc.), competes with Seth Howard, her fellow beat officer and sometime lover, to see who can tell a better story of their most memorable Valentine’s Day collars, only to find out that their two collars are smartly complementary. The novel-length title story begins with a magic trick: a Ceremony of Dissolution of Hate at a Buddhist ashram that veers out of control when the presiding guru is stabbed to death on stage in view of dozens of witnesses. Digging into Bhutanese Padmasvana’s past and the checkered lives of his followers—from his laconic assistant to his self-satisfied American impresario to a tepee-dwelling groupie to a grasping realtor whose son was the victim last year of a conveniently accidental drug overdose at the ashram—Jill soon uncovers a net of deception so tightly woven that every new round of interviews bares new secrets.
The title story makes this barely-a-collection worth a closer look—especially if you missed it the first time around.