Barry Fantoni is an artist who has not limited himself to any particular medium. A musician, poet and cartoonist, he has also demonstrated an interest in detective fiction, manifested most recently by the publication of HARRY LIPKIN, PRIVATE EYE, which, like its author, is quirky and extremely entertaining.
"If it sounds to you a bit like a game of Clue without a body, you would be right; the fun here is watching the detective methodically work his way through potential motives and alibis, making a list and checking it twice (or three times, if need be) and eliminating this or that suspect for one reason or another."
Fantoni is British-born but understands the United States, specifically Florida. His Harry Lipkin character is a soft-boiled protagonist (that’s a compliment, not a criticism) who is an 87-year-old private investigator operating out of a ramshackle apartment home office in an older section (demographically and geographically) of Miami. Harry takes at whim whatever case and client might strike his fancy; while never explicitly stated, one gets the idea that he does what he does because 1) he has done it for most of his adult life, and 2) what else would he do?
The client who drives the plot is Norma Weinberger, the wealthy widow of the deceased owner of a world-famous hat factory. Norma’s problem is that she has a thief in the house who is stealing trinkets, geegaws and extremely valuable jewelry from her on a regular basis. Harry does not lack for suspects, given that Norma is of an age and station where she has people working for her, such as her chauffeur, who supposedly moonlights as a boxer; a somewhat shady gardener; a cook; and a maid who doubles as a…
If it sounds to you a bit like a game of Clue without a body, you would be right; the fun here is watching the detective methodically work his way through potential motives and alibis, making a list and checking it twice (or three times, if need be) and eliminating this or that suspect for one reason or another. Given that Harry has lived in Miami for so long a period of time, he has acquired a wealth of disparate sources, but it is a dwindling fortune, given that this friend or that associate is just as likely to have departed the earth as to remain on this side of the veil. There are enough still with him, though, to provide Harry with almost all of the information he needs to narrow down his list of suspects. In fact, he does that part of his job too well. An entirely believable deus ex machina saves the day, much to his chagrin, as the ultimate revelation in this case provides him with a sad truth about himself.
You probably will discern the solution to the puzzle presented in HARRY LIPKIN, PRIVATE EYE long before Harry himself does. This forms an important part of the story and with it comes an interesting observation about Harry. At the age of 87, and still practicing his craft, Harry Lipkin is like the dancing bear: the wonder of the act does not hinge on how well the bear dances; it is rather that the bear dances at all.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 7, 2012