Review

Pacific Heights

by Paul Harper

Paul Harper introduces a fresh face in the detective world: Marten Fane, a man with a checkered, but mostly honest, past and a murky present --- sort of a modern-day Equalizer. Fane takes over cases people won’t ask the cops to handle. There’s a good reason for that, and a good price. Sometimes, the monetary price is the easiest to pay, for the cost in some cases goes far beyond mere dollars. Fane has just such a case in PACIFIC HEIGHTS.

"PACIFIC HEIGHTS teems with tension. It gets high points for drama, along with kudos for its exotic setting." 

Vera List, a San Francisco psychoanalyst, has discovered that someone is routinely breaking into her files, which have sensitive content that is highly personal to her patients. Obviously, that presents a touchy situation, one that Dr. List hopes to resolve without any blowback on her and with as few people knowing about it as possible. That’s where Fane comes in. A friend of a friend recommends him to Vera, so they meet to size each other up. Dr. List says that two of her patients are apparently having an affair with the same man, and this man has been using the stolen information from Vera’s files to manipulate the women. But to what end? He already has them happily meeting him for some pretty wild sex, so where is he heading with this? Vera notes, with mounting dread, that the affairs are taking a dangerous turn.

During their visits with Dr. List, the two patients, Elise and Lore, struggle to understand an abrupt change that has come over their lover. Vera is careful not to let on how much she knows, but just how long can she hold out? Lore and Elise, vulnerable in so many ways, could be heading toward a disastrous psychological break. Or worse. Or…they just may find a strength they didn’t realize they had. Given the raw facts, survival instinct might kick in. That is, if they can stay alive.

The man --- we’ll call him Ray, for that’s one of the names he calls himself --- has tried this sort of psychological push before, only not on civilians. His past shows a dark specialty during his military stint, which he now hopes to continue and even perfect after his somewhat hushed discharge. But soldiers and housewives are totally different creatures. And Ray is about to learn just how big the difference is between combat situations and daily life. The biggest danger, though, is if he fails. A man like Ray will not want to leave any witnesses behind.

If Fane has a good handle on things, he may be able to stop this train wreck of a case before it causes too many casualties. But he may have met his match in Ray. The problem is obviously a delicate one, and the solution promises to be messy. If Fane thought it was messy before, when he learns who Ray’s latest employer was, the fear factor really ratchets up. Until then, he didn’t think the situation could be much worse. 

PACIFIC HEIGHTS teems with tension. It gets high points for drama, along with kudos for its exotic setting. It doesn’t get much better than a taut thriller played out in the streets of San Francisco.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on August 3, 2011

Pacific Heights
by Paul Harper