A Chandler-esque noir detective tale featuring an ex-cop turned private eye, set among the gritty motels and palatial estates of Los Angeles.
As Royce’s debut mystery begins, private investigator Tom “Sully” Sullivan is in a confessional seeking an absolution he doesn’t believe in. He’s bleeding after having taken a .38-caliber slug in his side. The remainder of the novel serves as a flashback to recount how he got in such a predicament. It starts when Virginia Collier, the wife of the immensely wealthy Sam Collier, hires Sullivan to track down her wayward daughter, Alicia. On the way to finding Alicia (and her boyfriend, Angel Romero), Sully stumbles upon a crime scene: the naked body of another young woman, found face down in a creek in the foothills. Sullivan finds out later that the dead woman was pregnant. As it turns out, Alicia Collier is pregnant as well. The mystery leads Sully to visit an OB-GYN clinic, where he begins a dalliance with its receptionist, Jenna Taylor. He also consults LAPD Lt. Wendy Slenzak, an old flame, and old friend Lt. Lou Cabresi, to get just enough information to do his own investigating. At the novel’s conclusion, readers finally discover who shot Sully and whom he shot in return. Sullivan is depicted as a first-person narrator in the Philip Marlowe mold—a smart-mouthed shamus, a gumshoe who’s seen it all. Like Marlowe, he’s at heart a decent, moral man in a world where such people are rare. Royce’s appropriately terse prose gets the job done, and the framing device of Sullivan in the confessional is clever, if somewhat surreal and unsettling. At book’s end, readers may wonder about Sullivan’s fate, but they can take heart in the book’s subtitle: A Tom Sullivan Mystery. Sully’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
An enjoyable first outing that wraps an intriguing idea in a well-paced plot.