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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Murder, Mass Media and Indira Gandhi: Deadline by Richard Sanders

Last year I reviewed The Seventh Compass Point of Death, my introduction to author Richard Sanders and his Quinn McShane character. McShane is a media insider, reformed alcoholic/junkie and ex-con, who functions much like a traditional fiction private detective in the two books I've read, now. Perhaps that puts his adventures somewhere between cozy and hard-boiled.

McShane is an editor at a magazine owned by a news conglomerate in New York. One day the heads above him on the totem pole dispatch him to California for an investigation of a loose cannon on their payroll. Trish Fenellosa (the loose cannon in question) has tilted to the weird side of eccentric lately, after an apparent attempt on her life, and tried to dedicate an entire issue of her trendy girl-talk magazine, Trish Dish, to Indira Gandhi. "Why a subject that will sell exactly eight copies?" McShane's boss asks. "You tell me."

As a teenager, Trish Fenellosa was tried as an adult and convicted of murdering her sister, whose body was never found. Trish served some hard time, but the case was reopened, conviction overturned due to reasonable doubt, and she was free again at 22 years old. She quickly parlayed her infamy into a publishing deal for her magazine, which became a sensation and the cornerstone of an empire. Some 20 years later, her weird behavior is worrying the suits in New York and Quinn McShane is off to Frisco.

I believe this book is a bit longer than Seventh Compass Point, but still a quick read. Characters are developed well, dialog is good, and the narrative voice has a comforting familiarity. Also, the Indira Gandhi role-playing scenes were progressively hilarious. Over all, a very enjoyable book.

Unfortunately, the author has tweaked some pet peeves of mine. I'll mention two that many authors of detective fiction also rub:

1. McShane pulls his gun a lot, when he's not prepared to use it. Most of the time, seemingly, it's only to lose or surrender it.

2. McShane needs to find a guy called Sumo (great name for a heavy, BTW). He puts himself on stakeout at a place Sumo frequents. Sumo shows up, but doesn't know McShane is tailing him. McShane knows about Sumo but Sumo knows nothing about him. All kinds of options, right? Continue tailing him or use your advantage of surprise to get the drop on him, something like that. Instead, even though he knows exactly where Sumo is (right there in the same restaurant), McShane starts asking a waitress about him--how he can find him, meet with him, etc. The waitress claims complete ignorance. He gives her $100. She says come back later and maybe she can help. He leaves her a $10 tip and walks away. Of course she tips off Sumo, who calls in backup and bushwhacks McShane on his way to make the alleged rendezvous. C'mon, McShane--they would have suckered you for free. No need to pay $110 bucks to get doublecrossed and piss away your advantage of surprise. I'm not sure what to label this pet peeve. Suffice it to say that our hero was something less than streetwise.

Pet peeves aside, this was a good read and Quinn McShane makes an interesting guide through Richard Sanders' off-kilter mysteries loaded with bizarre and sometimes convention-busting characters.

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