Colleen Hayes is an unlicensed private eye in San Francisco in 1978. She’s also on parole after serving nine years for killing her husband, who was molesting their daughter. She’s contacted by Steve Cook, a former rock star who fell on bad times and now works construction, a man she happened to be gaga over back in the day. Cook’s daughter has been kidnapped and he doesn’t want police on the case. Hence the call to Colleen.
The plot is solid and the action just about right – not too little, not too much. Much of what Colleen does is very much believable and what a real P.I. would do based on my experience in law enforcement. I say much, not all, because that statement rings less true as the case develops. I’m giving it a solid four stars because the book did its job in keeping me entertained. Having lived through the 60s and much of the 70s in the Bay Area, the retro nostalgic touch was fun for a while, too.
Having said that, there are problems. The author overdoes the retro stuff by a long way. The first time he mentions Colleen’s Princess phone and flared pants, it’s a bit of fun. Buts it wears thin with constant repetition. Wide belts, wide lapels, tie dye T-shirts, ad nauseam. Okay, we get it. It’s 1978. It’s your shtick. You don’t have to call the answering machine a “one of those fancy new answering machines” or mention putting a dime in the pay phone a dozen times or explain how Colleen calls the operator and asks to be connected to the police instead of dialing 9-1-1 or every time she crosses legs mention the flared jeans. It’s clunky and distracting. More important than that, though, is that all the characters, Colleen and the kidnap victim included, are not very likeable. They mostly seem to be heavy boozers who smoke constantly and dump their butts all over the ground among other unpleasant traits. I’d have been happy if they all died in a plane crash at the end. There’s also a plethora of plot problems, like how does Colleen, a convicted homicide felon on parole, on one day’s notice hop on a plane to England on what is said to be her first international flight? How is it she has a valid passport and visa coming out of prison and never having traveled abroad, and isn’t she violating parole? How is she even listed as a private eye without a license? I could pick at it some more, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it did keep me reading and keep me guessing. I can recommend it mildly.