As the cover of ANGEL’S GATE hastens to tell us, this is “A Shortcut Man Novel.” What does a shortcut man do? Examples abound in the third of this fine series by p.g. sturges, as well as in its two predecessors. Home improvements not what you expected? Your local jeweler comes in on your sentimental project several hundred dollars over budget, and holds your precious heirloom hostage to boot? You can pay an attorney, go to court, and several months later come out feeling like you’ve lost even if you’ve won. Or you can call the Shortcut Man.
Dick Henry, a former LAPD officer with an ex-wife he still loves and two children he doesn’t see anywhere near as much as he’d like, has a manner of persuading those erstwhile villains who fall through the cracks of justice to see the errors of their ways and mitigate your damages. He does so in a variety of ways, some of which are perfectly legal, others of which are imperfectly so.
"ANGEL’S GATE is a very character-driven work. Part of the joy of the tale is watching the antagonists undo each other and baste in their own juices, with a bit of help here and there from Henry."
ANGEL’S GATE is by far the most complex of the three books in the series and, though it meanders a bit here and there, is perhaps the best so far. The story initially gets rolling when Henry is retained by a woman to locate her sister, Ellen Arden, who has seemingly gone missing while seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood. There is a point about halfway through where Henry, who functions as an occasional narrator of the piece, realizes this himself as he muses that he has been led far astray from his original purpose. Ah, but what an entertaining diversion it is.
Henry’s search leads him to Ivanhoe Productions, and to Howard Hogue, the man behind Ivanhoe’s curtain. Hogue is an individual of insatiable sexual appetite --- with a taste for only one thing --- and his casting couch serves a dual purpose. If an aspiring actress doesn’t make it into a film, she still might fit in as one of Hogue’s kept women. He has too many to keep the number or the names straight; that is the task of a naturally beguiling woman named Devi Stanton, who is employed by Hogue for the express purpose of functioning as a kind of housemother for the women in question. Henry’s investigation leads him to Devi, who is no help at all and in fact is responsible for diverting him off task when one of the mogul’s associates begins dipping his pen into the boss’s ink in an extremely unacceptable manner. When called by the unfortunate woman who is the object of the cad’s affection, Devi interjects herself into the situation in a very forceful and effective manner that, alas, further complicates matters. Devi in turn calls Henry, whom she has only just met.
In the manner of southern California rumpled knights going back to the days of Lew Archer, Henry responds and soon finds himself enmeshed in both a decades-old Hollywood secret involving a well-known matinee idol and a new and very dangerous situation, with a deranged movie producer, a crooked doctor, and a fixer all jointly determined to short-cut the Shortcut Man permanently, for assorted reasons. Henry, of course, is having none of it and manages to perform a balancing act between keeping himself alive and bedding the winsome Devi. Oh, and the missing Ms. Arden? Henry manages to locate her as well, thus finishing the task that Chandler left undone. Well, not exactly. But I hope you’ll take the point.
ANGEL’S GATE is a very character-driven work. Part of the joy of the tale is watching the antagonists undo each other and baste in their own juices, with a bit of help here and there from Henry. For his own part, however, p.g. sturges is one heck of a writer; I found myself marking up passages from beginning to end, noting descriptions and turns of phrase. By turns hilarious and pitch-dark, ANGEL’S GATE is worth an entry on your spring must-read list.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 15, 2013