got fooled. Big time.
Tim Maleeny's breakout book, STEALING THE DRAGON, introduced Cape
Weathers to the world of noir detective fiction. One of the more
impressive elements of that standout work was his use of San
Francisco's Chinatown --- the real Chinatown, not the wide avenues
where the tourist buses run --- as a dark backdrop to his complex,
enthralling mystery. When I heard that Maleeny's second Cape
Weathers novel was to be titled BEATING THE BABUSHKA, my initial
thought was something along the order of "Wow! That's great! It
will be set in Russian Hill!" I used to live in San Francisco's
Russian Hill neighborhood, and since occasionally and unfortunately
I operate under the assumption that everything is all about me, I
just couldn't wait to revisit my old neighborhood through the eyes
of Weathers and Maleeny.
As things develop, however, the book's setting is not Russian Hill.
Surprisingly enough, it isn't really set entirely in San Francisco.
And that is only the beginning of the surprises that Maleeny plants
here. He is a wonderfully strong and confident writer, and other
than bringing a couple of supporting characters with him from
STEALING THE DRAGON, this is a very different story from its
BEATING THE BABUSHKA begins with Weathers being retained to
investigate what looks to all the world to be a suicide. Tom
Abrahams, who is in San Francisco producing an epic disaster movie
for Empire Films, falls to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Grace Calloway, Abrahams's co-producer and former lover, is
convinced that his death was involuntary. Weathers, though not
entirely sure that Abrahams didn't jump on his own, agrees to look
into the matter. His curiosity is aroused one hundredfold when a
couple of very dangerous gentlemen with Eastern European accents
bluntly tell him to disengage himself from the investigation, an
instruction that naturally causes Weathers to dig his heels into
the ground and begin nosing around.
Weathers has a small but interesting group of folks along to help
him --- Linda, a reporter; Beau, a San Francisco homicide
detective; Sally, an indispensable martial arts expert; and The
Sloth. The Sloth is one of the most interesting supporting
characters you're likely to encounter in a contemporary work of
fiction --- his very nature keeps him from being used to carry an
entire novel --- but Maleeny wisely uses him sparingly, though to
great effect. It is worth reading a Weathers story just to
encounter The Sloth, who combines a significant personality
disorder with an uncanny computer genius.
Weathers and the reader learn quite a bit about the politics and
financing of filmmaking, as Weathers's investigation begins to
dovetail into a series of bizarre and grisly deaths involving some
lesser players in the San Francisco underworld. Weathers literally
will go cross-country to solve this case before it is all over,
putting himself in deadly jeopardy, escaping with aplomb and
wisecracking his way through at least some situations while
tap-dancing his way out of others.
Maleeny is an entertaining storyteller who combines elements of
noir detective fiction with occasional bits of humor to create a
character, and a series, of wide, deep and far-reaching appeal.
BEATING THE BABUSHKA goes a long way toward establishing Maleeny as
one of the new princes of detective fiction.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010