My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Failed actor, failed writer Stanley Hastings finds himself inexplicably in a role that he never anticipated playing or writing about - private detective. But the truth is, he isn't a REAL private detective, even though he possesses a license that says he is and an office with "Private Detective" on the door. What he really is is an ambulance chaser for a lawyer who specializes in personal injury lawsuits. Stanley goes out to interview the potential client and signs them up to be represented by his boss. He is really the most pathetic excuse for a P.I.
But Martin Albrecht doesn't know that when he sees Stanley's office with its "Private Detective" sign. He walks in and tries to hire Stanley for a real case in which he would serve as a bodyguard because Mr. Albrecht believes someone is trying to kill him. Stanley turns him away, but, sadly, Albrecht's suspicions were spot on. The next day Stanley reads in the newspaper that Albrecht has been murdered.
Guilt over the fact that he had refused to help the murdered man leads Stanley to resolve that he will, in fact, be a real detective - at least long enough to solve the mystery of his would-be client's murder. Little does he know that his investigation will lead him into the world of drug deals and mob operations in Miami and New York, a world that he is completely unprepared to navigate.
Still, even though he admits to being a coward, Stanley doggedly pursues his prey and begins to learn on the job what it is like to be a detective. Maybe this is a role he can play after all.
This 1988 publication was the first in what is now a long series of Stanley Hastings mysteries by Parnell Hall and it has some of the weaknesses of many first novels. The plot meanders around a bit, and we learn far too much about navigating the streets and highways of New York City and New Jersey. Stanley's wife and five-year-old son are tangential characters who seem like ghosts. The focus is all on Stanley, which is okay except that it doesn't really allow for much development of the other characters, some of whom we are simply told about but never actually meet.
The tone of the book is light and humorous. Stanley reminds us on several occasions that he is no Sam Spade. He doesn't own a gun. In fact, guns make him very uncomfortable.
Although he's something of a goofball, Stanley is a likable enough sort of guy and the story shows promise. I think it will probably be worth following to see where the series takes him.
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