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Cast in Stone

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Cast in Stone by G. M. Ford. This is the second Leo Waterman novel, sequel to Who in Hell Is Wanda Fuca?, and it opens with Leo keeping an eye on a used-car salesman’s annual excursion into debauchery (having been hired by his wife to make sure he gets home safe). Some thugs interrupt, and Leo rides to the rescue, ending up with a closer look at Tony Moldonado’s world of sleaze than he would’ve liked:

The room smelled like a stable and looked like a back room at Central Casting. Costumes of all types were scattered about the room. A pink leotard and tutu, size fifty-two stour. A sawed-off canoe paddle with a taped grip. A World War I leather helmet, complete with goggles. A yellow plastic miner’s hat. A pair of white, woolly chaps, with matching vest. Swim fins. Swim fins? Jesus. Whatever his myriad failings, the man led a rich fantasy life. You had to give him that.

The relevance of this scene takes a while to become apparent (I spent a lot of the book waiting for the two thugs to resurface, but that’s not it). It does eventually fit in, though, and it turns out to be an appropriate opening.

The main story concerns Leo’s effort to trace the daughter-in-law of his old friend Heck Sundstrom. She’s presumed dead, with her new husband, in a boating accident on their honeymoon, but Heck didn’t believe it, and was run down by a truck while looking into her past. With Heck in a coma, his wife hires Leo to carry on the investigation, wherever it may lead. It leads into some pretty sordid stuff, by the end of the book.

As in the previous volume, the writing is clever throughout, the characters are interesting (this book introduces the legless technical whiz Carl Cradduck, who provides some amusing interludes), and the plot is nicely inventive, as Leo traces the mysterious “Allison Stark” back through a long string of ruined lives. Leo’s drunken associates are also back to help with the legwork and provide comic relief, though they don’t fit quite as well into this story. He ends up using them on the case, but their involvement seems forced, as if Ford got two-thirds of the way through the story before realizing that he needed a role for his signature weirdos to play, and just jammed them in. It’s the only shaky point in an otherwise well-thought-out plot.

This isn’t as amusing as the last one. Toward the end, it actually gets pretty creepy, and the last few pages are downright nasty. Not entirely in a bad way, though– this one’s a little closer to Phillip Marlowe than Bernie Rhodenbarr, and makes it clear that while the basic concept (hard-boiled PI with homeless drunks for assistants) might tend toward pure comic fluff, Ford has other plans for the series.

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