Blood on the Moon by Basil Copper (1986)
This week many of the Friday's Forgotten Book participants are focusing on books about heists or bank robberies. My offering doesn't really hit the mark, but if it's a moonless night in a dark room and you squint your eyes, it comes almost close.
British author Basil Copper's laconic L.A. private detective Mike Faraday has appeared in over 50 novels. Faraday's exploits are unique in the genre if only because the American language and idioms can't stand a chance against the British language and idioms. (Cars, of course, have bonnets but they also have mainbeams. Pruning shears are secateurs. The master bedroom of a studio apartment happens to hold a corpse.) Faraday's world is that of the tough pulp private eye; he operates in an unrevealed era that seems to combine the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties...and a bit beyond -- whichever seems to suit a particular scene. This is also a world where a company can be protected by high-tech computers and electronics, but it's also a world where few know about computers and electronics but even an ordinary P.I. like Faraday can work out how these devises can be used to pull off an "impossible" crime. It's also a world where Faraday's luscious secretary Stella makes the world's best coffee, to the point where, when Faraday has to rush out of his office, he stops to drink two cups. And Faraday's first person narration contains some fairly tortured sentences
In other words, it's a mess. But it's an enjoyable, wacky kind of mess that is habit-forming.
The case involves the theft of five million dollars from a locked box in one of fifty vaults at the prestigious Van Opper Trust. Here's where the computers and electronics come in -- every box Van Opper holds has a camera in them that keeps a computerized eye on the contents. So how did the money vanish from a box that hadn't been opened since the account was activated and while the camera was doing spot checks on its contents?
Enter Faraday -- thirty-three, brash, common, and with a reputation of getting things done. Faraday's not the sharpest knife in the drawer (that distinction seems to go to Stella, she of the great coffee-making ability) but he has good instincts (usually) and figured out how the theft was done during his first day on the case. Problem is the thieves start getting murdered and Faraday can't find out where the five mil has gone. He knows someone was pulling the strings on this caper, a Mr. Big lurking in the background.
Along the way Faraday comes across an oil millionairess who has suddenly become ill and reclusive, a Mrs. Danvers-like housekeeper, a racketeer kingpin named Alex Rocco (not the actor from The Godfather) who may or may not have gone straight, a mobster who runs a hit men for hire operation, a 10,000 square foot bookstore where odd things seem to happen, a non-existent 1897 "first" edition of Alice in Wonderland, a cabaret singer, and a phony secretary who quickly has the hots for Faraday.
With the the pulp P.I. tropes and anti-tropes floating around the story, Faraday must still find out the identity of Mr. Big.
I enjoy enjoy this cock-eyed, bullet-laden series taken oh-so-seriously by the author,but the reader has to be a certain mood to get through one.
One last point: the 1958-61 television detective Peter Gunn is referenced at one point in the book, but his name is given as "Peter Gun." That may have been a typo, but a part of me wonders if it really was.