Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Dolls", by Victor Gischler

From: Three On A Light, 2010.

Dean Murphy used to lead an interesting life. One day at a flea market he'd picked up a Zippo lighter, and ever since then, his one-man detective agency had seen enough vampires, werewolves, and other assorted ghouls to fill a dozen Twilight books.

But now the curse haunting the Zippo has been exorcised, and his life is back to normal, or, more accurately, boring.

Finally, though, he gets off his butt and takes a new case, an odd young woman named Felicia. Felicia just dumped her boyfriend, and when he left, he took something that belonged to her: a red backpack. Felicia wants it back. She wants it back badly.

Back in the swing of things at last, it only takes Dean a few hours to track down the backpack. Unfortunately he finds her boyfried, Sebastian, as well, and he's not jolly or green but he is a giant. Things come to a happy conclusion, for all except the giant, and Felicia pays Dean and sends him on his way.

Before she does, though, he sees what's in her backpack, a book, very old and valuable. Some of the occult symbols on it are disturbingly familiar. Soon enough he realized that this isn't over, not at all.

"Dollls" is the last, longest, and best story in Three On A Light. I'd read several of Gischler's Dean Murphy stories before, but not this one, and it really breaks free of the conventions of the private eye story in a way the others don't. The other stories hew more to private eye conventions, and "Dolls" starts that way, too, before Gischler takes the story into uncharted territory, discarding many PI trappings along the way. By the end you're really wondering if any of the good guys are going to make it.

I'm not saying; you'll have to read it to find out.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"The Unholy Three", by William Campbell Gault

From: Joe Puma, P.I., Wonder Publishing Group, 2010.

Johnny Delevan is a 12-year-old kid with a problem. This isn't a problem he can talk to his parents about (they're dead), or a teacher, or a priest. Instead he takes this problem to the neighborhood private investigator, Joe Puma.

The problem: he doesn't like his sister's boyfriend.

His sister Eilenn is twenty-three, and the head of the household now, and she's started seeing a slick, handsome character named Jean Magnus. Despite the fact that Puma is on his uppers once again and can't afford to turn down paying clients (Johnny has a paper route), he gently suggests that maybe the kid is a little jealous. Johnny, cheesed off, tells him what's what and storms out.

And that doesn't sit right with Puma. He kept turning it over in his mind, looking at the angles, and finally he decides it won't hurt if he asks a few questions. So he does. In particular, he looks up an old acquaintance, Lenny Donovan, now the house detective at Magnus' hotel.

The next morning, Donovan has disappeared.

William Campbell Gault was one of the leading private eye writers of the 1950s before he began writing sports stories for the juvenile market, which was more lucrative. The stories in Joe Puma, P.I. all date from that decade, and they're excellent. If you like this kind of thing you'll love this book. If not, it might change your mind.