Private detective Ramone Ramone stumbles onto shady dealings in the art and medical worlds in this latest installment of deKooning’s (The Corsican Duck, 2014) California-set mystery series.
As the book opens, a hospital CEO ogles a female microbiologist at a medical conference in Mexico, planning to score with her that night. The scene then shifts to the Berkeley, California, office of private eye Ramone, where business is looking up as he receives visits from two new clients. A lawyer who calls himself “Raymond Chandler” asks Ramone to find his daughter’s missing cat, which disappeared during a portrait sitting with artist Felix Mysterioso; then, a strangely familiar female artist asks Ramone to find out why her paintings are getting slashed, and hands him a list of suspects/lovers. The PI proceeds to puzzle through the cases, assisted by hip sixth-grader/drug dealer “Jerome the Phone,” pawnshop pal Ahmad and perpetually stoned hippie Edward Morning-Glory. Meanwhile, the city is also dealing with a spate of suicide jumpers; one nearly drops on Ramone while he dines out with his girlfriend. Bodies pile up until Ramone, with the help of one of his exes, finds out more about his clients and makes connections to jewel smuggling, drug dealing and the aforementioned hospital CEO. Author deKooning, a pseudonym for a real-life surgeon, gets in some spot-on barbs about corruption in the medical profession. Unfortunately, the book is a bit heavy-handed in its comedic take on hard-boiled detective fiction, as exemplified by his characters’ rather on-the-nose monikers. Ramone often seems like a mere mouthpiece for Philip Marlowe–like musings, particularly regarding the female artist. His cases rather conveniently collide as the narrative snowballs, yet never seem fully solved. Still, deKooning does bust up some stereotypes about Berkeley, and his presentation of the city offers quite a bit more edge than its typical hippie reputation would suggest.An often engaging California noir mystery with colorful, comic details and a tangled plot.