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William W. StarrThe phone on my desk rang so unexpectedly I nearly spilled the Mylanta onto my only unstained necktie."
Whoa, there. That has to be Velda, the knockout gorgeous secretary calling her private-eye boss Mike Hammer in Mickey Spillane's "I, the Jury," right?
No, it's actually sassy Darlene who's called her boss, San Francisco P.I. Jake Diamond, in J.L. Abramo's first novel.
Now, I know Mike Hammer, and believe me, Jake Diamond is no Mike Hammer. No, Jake is a penniless, antacid-sniffing gumshoe who just happens to read Charles Dickens and loves his 1963 Chevy Impala. So no, he really isn't Mike Hammer.
But Columbia author Abramo's prize-winning novel brings back the spirit of Raymond Chandler, Spillane and countless other tough-guy P.I. authors in a way that's original while paying tribute to its genre predecessors.
You've got to love the names here, jailbirds, Mob bosses, hit men and the like. Sonny the Chin. Bobo Bigelow. Dogtail. Vinnie Stradivarius, called Vinnie Strings (though most of the tough guys in these pages don't have a clue why).
Diamond springs into action on the second page when a new client shows up, Evelyn Harding, who needs a P.I. to find her missing husband. Same scene you've read dozens of times before in these sorts of books. But here's the twist: She's not a sexy bombshell. But let Jake tell it in his own words:
"Her voice could have been broken glass. I felt a twinge in one of my molars. I slowly looked up from the folder, and the woman standing there could hardly be described in words. But I gave it a stab. She looked like a traced picture of herself.
"She was as plain as a cake doughnut."
But Evelyn Harding has some surprising news for Jake. Her missing husband is the prime suspect in the killing of Jake's best friend, a Los Angeles shamus named Jimmy Pigeon (didn't I tell you you'd love these names?), a murder that shakes Jake to his core and sends him winging off into the novel's twisting plot.
Armed with a copy of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities a most appropriate book, only the two cities in this context are San Fran and L.A., not London and Paris; Jake ravages the City of Angels in search of the gunman, or gunwoman, and turning up a few secrets along the way. And, as if to point up the differences between this P.I. and those in some other novels, Jake is not above dropping names like Godard, Copernicus and the Boxer Rebellion, Those words never dropped from Mike Hammer's lips.
Readers who grew up with the sex and violence of Spillane will find this fun, well-written new incarnation to be a little gentler. There are some pretty sexy dames here and there, but Jake isn't getting lucky with them. In fact, can you imagine Mike Hammer talking with anyone about granddaughters?
Oh well, just know this isn't your grandmother's P.I. novel and enjoy. And hope that that Abramo (a Brooklyn native who now calls Columbia home is at work on a sequel to Catching Water in a Net, which won the St. Martin's Press/PWA Award for Best First Private Eye Novel.
— The State