Monday, September 29, 2014

A Lover Man Finds Himself in Serious Trouble

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Artie Deemer has a life that many would envy. He spends the bulk of his time sitting in his New York apartment, smoking dope and listening to classic jazz. He can afford to do so because he’s supported in luxurious style by his dog, Jellyroll, the spokesdog for R-r-ruff Dog Food and a famous star of movies and television. Artie occasionally has to take Jellyroll to a studio and put him through his paces, but it’s hardly the most demanding job in the world.

Until a year ago, Artie was madly in love with a beautiful woman named Billie Burke, an artist/photographer. He’s still a bit madly in love with Billie, but to no avail since she ditched him for another lover (or two or three). Artie is stunned when the cops interrupt one of his relaxing afternoons to tell him that Billie has been found, bound and drowned in her bathtub. The cops suggest that Artie might be a suspect in the killing and then, to make matters worse, Artie discovers that he’s overlooked a message that Billie left on his answering machine just before she was killed. In the message, she begs him to come see her at her studio and tells him that she has something for him there.

Artie decides that he has to find whatever it is she might have left for him. This means, of course, that he will have to slip into the crime scene and search it, in violation of all sorts of laws. He tracks down his lawyer, who’s hard at work losing money in a pool hall and who advises Artie not to do it. Happily, Artie ignores this sound advice; if he didn’t there would be no book, and that would be a shame because it turns out to be a pretty good one.

Artie is a very engaging protagonist and naturally, once he sneaks into the studio and discovers what Billie left him, he puts himself in the crosshairs of the NYPD and the FBI, as well as an assorted group of mobsters, con men and aging World War II fighter pilots. (The book was first published in 1987, when these flyboys would have been in their late sixties.) Artie struggles to stay one step ahead of them all as he attempts to unravel the complex mystery that led to the death of his ex-lover. He doesn’t always succeed, which means that his life expectancy may not be all that great.

This is a very entertaining book, laced with a wry humor and populated by a quirky cast of characters. It’s now available in new trade paperback and e-book editions, and readers who seek it out are sure to enjoy it.

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