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No Sign of Murder Hardcover – September 1, 1990
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Fair waring! This is not Tony Bennet's San Fransciso!
Even for 1990, "No Sign of Murder" was comfortably old fashioned. It's a hard-boiled (well, semi-hard-boiled, anyway) private eye tale. The peeper (not a word he would use) is Stuart Winter. He operates out of an office on Geary Street a couple of blocks from a saloon (it prefers to think of itself as a Scottish pub, some friends of mine used to own it) called The Edinburgh Castle. He strolls ten blocks down Geary to another saloon called Lefty O'Doole's and from there to nearby Union Square where he sits on a sun-warmed bench. To those who know San Francisco, it is immediately obvious that this PI is operating in Sam Spade's territory, both mentally and geographically.
The case involves a young women who has been missing for six months. She is deaf (hence the title) and her last known employment was teaching American Sign Language to a clever young gorilla named Joseph.
Russell shows unmistakable signs of being very clever, too--despite his dubious claim about the Edinburgh Castle being the best and Lefty O'Doole's the second best watering hole in San Francisco. The cleverness sometimes erupts in caricatures of well-known SF institutions: a lady in Union Square holds bags that proclaim she has been shopping at Nordy's and Needless-Markups. The father of the missing woman is a pompous and slightly sinister semior partner in a large, pompous and slightly sinister law firm called Pillsborn, Monroe and Suture. (Oddly enough, my wife used to work at a large ... ahem, well-known SF law firm of very similar name.)
The book attempts no new ground, but its execution of the traditional forms and tropes is generally first-rate. PI Winter is a softer version of PI Philip Marlowe rather than the harder, craggier Sam Spade, but even ersatz Marlowe will do nicely, thank you very much, in our present era of endless cozy mysteries.
This book is a good and clever handling of a classic form. Pick it up if you stumble across it.