Who in Hell Is Wanda Fuca? by G. M. Ford. When writing up The Big Sleep, I mentioned that I've long been searching for some other author who pushes the same buttons that Chandler does. In the comments following that post, Mary Kay Kare recommended a couple of authors, and I picked up the first books in their respective series when I hit the library before leaving for Montreal.
Who in Hell Is Wanda Fuca is the first of several books about Leo Waterman, a private eye in Seattle who, despite being from a prominent local family, barely scrapes by on a series of oddball cases solved with the help of a sodden set of Baker Street Irregulars:
Harold Green, Ralph Batista, and George Paris had, like Buddy [Knox], once been local people of some note. The four of them shared the enormous front room of a rooming house up the hill on Franklin. Last time I'd had business cards printed, I'd briefly considered changing the logo to read Waterman and Associates. I did, after all, use these guys quite a bit. Maybe they deserved billing. Sanity prevailed. I stuck with Waterman Investigations. God forbid anybody wanted to meet the associates.
I often used Buddy and his friends as field operatives. The destitute and the homeless had become so prevalent and so bothersome in Seattle that they were able to operate under a cloak of cultural invisibility. They were there, but nobody saw them. They could hang around places for days at a time without being noticed. It was as if they had their own little socioeconomic force field. Even better, they took great pride in their work and didn't require much in the way of fringe benefits. When they worked for me, they stayed relatively sober. When I paid them, they got drunk. It worked.
In this episode, Leo is hired to find the runaway granddaughter of a reclusive gangster who was close to Leo's father. She's a real piece of work, as the phrase goes, and has taken up with a violent fringe environmental group. Our intrepid hero has to find her, separate her from the group, thwart any nefarious plans they may have, and incidentally figure out who's behind the illegal dumping of toxic waste on an Indian reservation, a secret they're willing to kill to protect.
There's nobody named Wanda Fuca in this book-- the title is drawn from an incident where one of the irregular foursome mis-hears the place name "Straits of Juan de Fuca," and that pretty much tells you how the publisher has opted to market these. It's not entirely accurate-- the book is a bit darker than that, but there is a fair bit of lovable eccentricity to the characters. The end result is a little closer to Bernie Rhodenbarr than Phillip Marlowe-- Waterman is Marlowe after a few more years of hitting the bottle, only with a softer heart and more colorful friends. It's a good read all the same (and much better vacation reading than Radiance...)-- I like Block's Burglar books, after all. I'll definitely read more of these.
(Originally posted to The Library of Babel.)