This little mystery novel caught me by surprise. I won’t call it a murder mystery, since part of the mystery is that it’s not clear the “victim” is in fact dead. I read a blurb about the main character, insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter, being a rugged character in the style of a James M. Cain leading man. I decided to try the first one in the series in case I liked the character. I didn’t realize the main character was gay. Actually, that word wasn’t used in 1970 when this book was published. He was homosexual or worse in the language of the book and that was more than just a quirk. It was a main theme of the plot, which I suppose was daring back in the homophobic times, but not something I cared about. You’d think from this book that there are more gay men than straights in California. There was way more sex in it than I’d have liked, and gay sex is even more of a turnoff.
Setting that aside, there was much to like and some to dislike in the book. The prose is rich in description. The author is a master at painting the set and populating it with distinctive characters. I liked that the main character behaved as real investigators do, mostly going around interviewing people, not chasing people, getting in fistfights and shootouts. He reminds me of Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton’s lead character in that respect. As a retired FBI agent I can tell you that part was realistic. The plot kept me guessing which meant it also kept me reading and kept me entertained until the end. The ending however, was disappointing. It was what I call an Agatha Christie ending, where there are too many characters, all of whom have motive and opportunity and the lead character seems to be the only one who spots tiny clues that are fortuitously scattered throughout the early pages to solve the mystery. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.