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The Highly Effective Detective Plays the Fool: A Mystery Hardcover – March 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
At the start of Yancey's amusing third mystery to feature the endearingly incompetent Highly Effective Detective (after 2008's The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs), a suspicious wife, Katrina Bates, hires PI Teddy Ruzak to investigate her husband. Ruzak's unorthodox methods prompt Bates to fire him (I didn't hire you to confront him about infidelity; I hired you to confirm the infidelity). Later, a representative of the wayward spouse approaches Ruzak about obtaining his file on the Bates case. When his ex-client disappears, Ruzak is the only one to suspect foul play. Meanwhile, the manager of his apartment building in Knoxville, Tenn., is demanding that Ruzak get rid of his pet dog, and the PI licensing commission charges him with practicing private detection without a license. Ruzak's changing the name on his door to the Research & Analysis Group hasn't fooled anyone. The appealing if bizarre narrative voice carries the action briskly along. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Teddy Ruzak, the Tennessee private investigator—well, he would be one, if he could pass the exam—returns to solve another crime. Problem is, for a while he’s not sure if a crime has been committed. A woman hires Teddy to find out if her husband is cheating on her, and then (after Teddy ineptly clues the husband in) she disappears. But why? And who’s responsible? Like Gregory Mcdonald’s Fletch novels, the Ruzak mysteries rely heavily on dialogue, on the sound of the characters’ voices. Several pages will pass with nary an interstitial narrative passage; this has the effect of propelling the reader through the story but also of making us feel like we’re listening to conversations, rather than reading a novel. Teddy himself is a wonderful creation, a hapless PI wannabe who doesn’t seem to have a clue as to how the professionals do it. You can’t help liking the guy, as much for his sheer bumbling ineptitude as for his shoot-from-the-hip way of saying what’s on his mind (another similarity to Fletch). Reader response should be unanimous: keep ’em coming, please. --David Pitt
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When I was about 65 pages from the end, I even skipped ahead to the last few pages trying to catch a glimpse of the ending, or at least get an idea, with the promise to myself that I would go back and read the missing pages and fill in the missing details during a less nocturnal period in my life.
Instead, I wound up staying up and reading my way through to the end of the book and the end of any decent bedtime hour. At 3 a.m., even the church bells in Knoxville are silent. The police sirens, unfortunately, are not.
Though I now sit blurry-eyed writing this, it was worth reading to the end of The Highly Effective Detective Plays the Fool by Richard Yancey. Teddy Ruzak does find out what happened to his ex-client, Katrina Bates, who killed her and why, and he does it all, or most all of his detective work, in Knoxville, Tennessee. He also finds a way, with the help of his secretary, to beat the bureaucratic system.
There are few authors whose books I look forward to when they come out. The late Robert B. Parker was one, Michael Connelly is another. I include Richard Yancey in that category. I have read all three books in The Highly Effective Detective series, and enjoyed each one. I even found a copy of the first book, The Highly Effective Detective at the recent Friends of the Library book sale and gave it to a friend of mine to read and for her to consider for her mystery book group. The Highly Effective Detective All three are set in Knoxville, and in little ways and sometimes not so little ways, there are connections between the books, though they stand alone. For example, in The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs: A Mystery, as part of the tapestry of the book, Teddy adopts a dog from the shelter. However, Archie, the dog, appears to want nothing to do with Teddy. Archie isn't mean to Teddy, just indifferent. This attitude is continued in the Plays the Fool installment, but comes to a conclusion when Teddy is faced with having to get rid of the dog because his apartment lease at the Sterchi building doesn't allow him to have dogs. And in true fashion that honors the characters of Teddy, Archie, and the building superintendent Whittaker, who has been stalking Teddy over the "illegal" dog, it is not a cheap resolution.
As you've probably guessed, Teddy is not your typical wise-cracking, pithy-speaking, jaded private eye. He has been known to sit on his gun, for which Felicia, his secretary and aide, tells him, "Basic firearm safety, Ruzak: Don't sit on your gun."
The humor in this novel, as in all three, comes not from snarky remakes followed by self-satisfied smiles, but from the character of Teddy, an overweight man following his dream of being a private detective, or as he puts it: "I've been having this ongoing debate with my secretary about how I see my job. Not so much a gun for hire as a knight in shining armor."
He is a bit bumbling, a bit rambling, and sometimes given to quoting people but not remembering the source of the quote, which causes Felicia to institute a new rule, if he quotes somebody he has to pay a dollar.
But Teddy is also a man who has good instincts, not only about what is right or wrong, but where the truth of a case is and how to find it, even it takes him to Savannah, GA, and out in the ocean, where he doesn't want to be because other creatures live in the water.
Michael Connelly, bestselling author of the Harry Bosch detective series, once said that a mystery writer sets a novel series in a particular city as a love letter to that city. Originally from Florida (and now living there again), Connelly sets his Bosch series in Los Angeles not only because he spent about a decade there as a crime reporter for the LA Times, but also because as a kid, he fell in love with the mystery stories by writers such as Raymond Chandler whose private detective, Phillip Marlowe, lives and works in LA.
It would be impossible to think of Spenser without Boston or Bosh without LA. The cities these two detectives inhabit are as integral a part of those novel series as any of the characters. The same is true of Teddy Ruzak and Knoxville. Or as Felicia tells Teddy, "It's okay, you know. It might even be good for you to get of town for a few days, but come back, Ruzak. Knoxville wouldn't be the same without you."
And Teddy wouldn't be the same anywhere else.
Like Connelly, Richard Yancey also lives in Florida, but he spent ten years in Knoxville, and in a recent brief e-mail said, "I miss it every day." The Highly Effective Detective series, as well as a series for young adults also set in Knoxville, are Yancey's love letter to a small city in the Tennessee Valley that he wants others to know about if not fall in love with. Reading The Highly Effective Detective series, and seeing Knoxville as an important a character in those books, as LA is in Connelly's books, or Boston in Parker's is an enjoyable way to begin that love affair, even if you already live here.
For me these books are a joy to read, and I always wait for the next one. Cleverly written.
Too bad this writer is not as appreciated as he should be.
Write on, Mr Yancey & count me as one of your most ardent fans.