My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Stanley Hastings is a hoot. This actor/writer/private detective wannabe has failed at just about everything he's tried in life, but with a stay-at-home wife and son to support, he keeps plugging away, trying to earn enough to stay ahead of the debt collectors.
His most steady job is that of sign-up interviewer with an ambulance-chasing law firm. His assignment is to meet with potential clients who have been injured, interview them about what happened, get them to sign a commitment form, and take it all back to his employer, Richard Rosenberg, for a decision about whether he will take the case. His job takes him all over New York, but in this entry to the series, it seems to take him mostly to Harlem, to some very sketchy neighborhoods where he is constantly afraid of being beaten up.
This book was originally published in 1987 and it seems very dated in many ways, in its attitudes but particularly in technology. Stanley carries a beeper by which the law firm pages him when they have someone for him to interview. Then he has to search around for a pay phone where he can call in and find out what the assignment is. By now, that seems almost stone age in its concept.
This time, however, Stanley gets to put his private detective skills to work on behalf of a friend of his wife's. The woman is the mother of one of their son's schoolmates and part of their school carpool. She is in a real mess. She had agreed to help a former friend from college days who had asked her to take her place in an escort service one day because the woman had to go out of town to visit her dying mother. She kept the date for her and ended up being raped and then blackmailed and forced into prostitution. Her pimp has starred her in some porn films, some with her knowledge and some without, and now she is in so deep that she can't get out.
Enter white knight Stanley Hastings.
Stanley goes to see the pimp at his apartment in Harlem and finds him dead with a carving knife stuck in his back. Thinking fast, he calls a friend and has him call the law firm, pretending to be the dead man, and feigning an injury for which he wants the firm to represent him in litigation. The secretary beeps Stanley and sends him to the man's apartment. Now that he has an excuse for being there, he feels he can legitimately call the police and report the death. Smart Stanley!
Unfortunately, the sergeant who is sent to investigate is one who remembers Stanley from a previous case that he had interfered in just a few months before. He is understandably suspicious and Stanley goes high up on his list of possible murder suspects.
After being exhaustively interviewed by the police, Stanley continues to bumble around, trying to help out his client but also trying to clear his name. Those are two ends which may prove mutually exclusive.
Living by his wits and practicing some of his acting skills while dealing with the bad guys, Stanley does manage to extricate himself and his carpool-mate in the end but not before exposing us to many examples of the Hastings quick and inventive humor. Or at least what passes for humor.
That humor is very broad and over-the-top and sometimes downright annoying, but, on the whole, this proved to be a quick and fun read. I think I'll probably be returning to this series from time to time when I want something light that doesn't tax the brain.
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