Nominated for a 2018 Shamus Award in Best Original Private Eye (paperback)!
"[In] this tricky and delightfully surprising crime novel...Spinelli deftly segues from one genre to another--from hard-boiled noir to paranoid thriller, puzzle mystery (with each and every riddle logically explained), spy caper, and ultimately to something evocative of Bogart and Bacall. Spinelli is definitely a talent to watch."
"An unofficial San Francisco shamus whose tale is set in 1997 but whose heart is stuck in 1947 hunts for the world's most elusive missing person...'I keep meeting people who wind up dead,' aptly observes the narrator/hero...If you'd like more where that came from, Spinelli is your man."
"Treasure the intriguing mystery and its haunting solution."
"A neat little post-modern mash-up of Chandler and Hammett...[Spinelli's] got wit and style up the wazoo."
"You can believe the man that wrote that read his Chandler and maybe his Macdonald as well."
"A fun romp of an old-school detective novel with a few post-modern tweaks. It's full of fist fights, shoot outs, and wise cracks, taking a few peculiar twists that prove many times to be poignant."
"A classic noir...Spinelli manages to keep us on our toes."
"A fantastic read, plenty of twists and turns...Highly recommended."
--Col's Criminal Library
"It's classic noir with a little technology that turns into an international thriller. Though it's a dangerous leap mixing both genres, author Bradley Spinelli succeedsThe Painted Gun will keep readers hooked at every page."
"One of the best aspects of The Painted Gun is its sense of place. The seedier sides of San Francisco are brought to life with all the expected characters...A wonderful diversion."
--Confessions of a Cyberlibrarian
"An intriguing read."
--Life Within the Pages
"The Painted Gun is hardboiled like they don't make anymore. Whiplash twists, razor-sharp prose, an addictive narrative--I couldn't read it fast enough."
--Rob Hart, author of South Village
It's 1997 at the dawn of the digital age in San Francisco. Ex-journalist and struggling alcoholic David "Itchy" Crane's fledgling "information consultancy" business is getting slowly buried by bad luck, bad decisions, and the growing presence of the Internet. Before he can completely self-destruct, a private investigator offers him fifty grand to find a missing girl named Ashley. Crane takes the job because the money’s right and because the only clue to her disappearance is a dead-on oil portrait of Crane himself--painted by the mysterious missing girl whom he has never met. As Crane's search for Ashley becomes an obsession, he stumbles upon a series of murders for which he begins to fear he's being framed...
With pitch-perfect dialogue, an exquisitely crafted plot, and a stylized, deadpan nod to classic hard-boiled writers like James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, and Dashiell Hammett, The Painted Gun introduces Bradley Spinelli as a force to be reckoned with in contemporary noir fiction.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Painted Gun
By Bradley Spinelli
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2017 Bradley Spinelli
All rights reserved.
At 4:14 p.m. I was smoking a cigarette. My smoking pattern had finally come full circle. After five religious years of pack-a-day Marlboro Reds, I quit, started up again, switched to Lucky Strike filters, switched to Drum hand-rolling Dutch tobacco, quit, started up on Lucky Strike Straights, switched to American Spirit Blues, quit, started again on American Spirit Yellows, quit, and finally resumed my regimen of Marlboro Reds, a pack a day. I was now convinced that the chemical additives that had driven me to Spirits in the first place would kill me quicker than the cancer the tobacco alone would eventually cause.
By 4:19 the cigarette was burning out in the brown glass ashtray, sending a lone last tendril of smoke in a sacred mission to the ceiling. I looked out the window to the dismal backyard — beaten dirt and broken concrete, straggling stubborn bushes, empty plastic trash bags. I was having a thought, a post-cigarette thought, of fullness, hope, and genuine optimism. It passed quickly. For lack of anything better to do I was reaching for the box of Reds when the phone rang. I looked at it in disbelief and waited a full five rings before I picked it up.
"Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?"
I cleared my throat and remembered I should have spoken first. "Yeah. Crane here."
"Itchy, damn you. Why the hell don'tcha say hello like a normal guy?"
"Whatever gave you the impression I was normal?" It was McCaffrey, a second-rate private investigator down in LA. I had done a local research job for him a couple of years before and never been paid. Since then I'd been fortunate enough to be out when he called. I was looking out the window again, wondering why I had felt so optimistic just a moment before.
"Right as ever, Itchy. Listen, you busy these days?"
I took a moment to shake out another cigarette and toyed with it between my fingers. I didn't have to turn my head to know that my desk was empty, nor did I have to shift my weight to feel the anorexic leather wallet in my back pocket. "Yeah, McCaffrey, I'm pretty busy. Quite a few irons in the fire right about now."
"Well, let 'em get cold. I got one you're gonna want to be in on."
"Fuck you, McCaffrey. Your checks don't bounce, they just never get cut." I hung up.
I lit the cigarette in my hand and leaned my chair back on two legs. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the far side of the room and realized that my beard was the only part of me not looking thin. I began to have second thoughts about giving McCaffrey the brush-off.
I started my "information services" biz after I walked out of the San Francisco Chronicle, drunk off my ass, screaming at the top of my lungs that I didn't want to work with a bunch of fucking drunks anymore. I was right, ironic or not; the alcoholic ratio among journalists looks enough like a whole number to guarantee it will never appear on a racing form. But it was a bullshit reason to quit. I was just tired of endless deadlines writing useless copy that would only end up lining a birdcage. One particularly drowsy afternoon I did the math and worked out how many trees in the dwindling rain forests I was personally responsible for felling and couldn't eat for two days. Besides, the writers for the Guardian were getting all the hot stories; I worried I wasn't read by anyone under sixty.
So I moved to South San Francisco and set up shop in a decent little house with two bedrooms upstairs, a spacious living room with bay windows offering nice views of the house across the street, a real kitchen large enough to actually have a kitchen table, and a faux-marble staircase leading to the street. The downstairs was a large garage with an unfinished room in the back. South City is a bedroom community where the pace of life feels slower and more private than in San Francisco proper, and I liked the idea of slowing down and having more time to think. There were few restaurants and fewer bars, and the likelihood that I would stumble into trouble was negligible. This is the kind of place where one moves to raise a family — or, I thought, build a business.
After years of snooping and scooping facts for the paper, I had a pretty good nose. I printed up some business cards and started a PR campaign. I billed myself as a jack-of-all-knowledge, and for a fee would answer any question put to me. I put an ad in the Guardian, some friends at the Chronicle placed a nice blurb about me in the Sunday edition, and pretty soon I had a nice clientele going. All kinds of gigs: mapping out elaborate travel plans to unusual destinations for people with unusual tastes; sexual fetish information; property ownership inquiries for investors; the occasional person-search for law firms serving subpoenas; even helping students with research projects on obscure subjects. I was like a private dick with very little legwork — and I never got shot at. I even got a couple cushy reconnaissance missions, literally taking some hotshot's vacation for him, all expenses paid, to work out the perfect weekend in Oahu or Cabo so he wouldn't run the risk of staying at a less-than-divine resort. Those were the days.
Then I made the mistake of ghostwriting a cover story in one of the weeklies about nude beaches in the Bay Area. I knew the kid working the story and the money was right. Turns out my directions to one of the harder-to-reach Marin beaches — nude beaches are off the beaten path, even in California — got flubbed somewhere between me, the credited writer of the article, the editor, and the fact-checker. A young couple missed the crucial turn that had been omitted from the printed directions and fell sixty feet to the rocks. Their bloated corpses washed up at low tide and scared the piss out of a couple of Chinese fishermen.
It could have all blown over — should have all blown over — but the girl's mother got word about what the couple were doing out there. She tried, unsuccessfully, to sue the paper, did a lot of grade-A snooping, and made the writer's life hell until he finally confessed that he didn't know the swimming hole but had gotten his information from me. The woman launched a personal vendetta — placed slanderous ads next to mine, got on radio talk shows. I became a headline: "Ghostwriter Blamed in Young Girl's Death." No one ever asked me for comment. The last two years had been a long, slow slide into insolvency.
I was scraping bottom and I knew it.
My brain was halfway to sending my hand back to the phone to star-69 McCaffrey when the front doorbell rang three times in a row and stopped. I made it to the door in time to see the UPS driver gun his engine and pull his truck away from the curb. I opened the screen to yell at the driver but it caught against something and bounced right back into my face. I took a step back and saw what had impeded me: a flat box, barely four inches thick but six feet high and standing on end, leaning against the outdoor railing.
I muscled the thing downstairs, opened my garage door, and set it up on my workbench. It was addressed to me, overnight delivery, and the return address was missing a name but I recognized it as McCaffrey's Santa Monica digs. I didn't like it. He was playing me, one way or another.
I took a mat knife and ripped into it, cut the top of the box away, and started in on the bubble wrap. When I was all but buried in packing materials I realized I was looking at the backside of a stretched canvas. I stood it up, turned it around with some difficulty, put it up on the bench, and stepped back to light a smoke and have a look.
I never got the smoke lit.
It was a painting of me.
Excerpted from The Painted Gun by Bradley Spinelli. Copyright © 2017 Bradley Spinelli. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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