Street Level: A Mystery
|Publisher:||Thomas Dunne Books|
When we meet private detective Duncan Sloan he’s just handed back a five thousand-dollar check meant as advance payment on a job. The wealthy prospective client wants Sloan to find a woman with an eyeball tattooed on her bottom. All he knows is the tattoo, that she’s very young, white and probably somewhere in or near Orlando, Florida, Sloan’s hometown. Thanks but no thanks; that’s not enough. But when the five grand reappears in Sloan’s mailbox, he uses it for a Costa Rican vacation and never mind the job.
Pike, however tracks him down. When he explains the assignment, Sloan finds it bizarre enough to say “yes.” Isaac Pike is the only son of a top-ranked tycoon. He is also gay. Because he genuinely wants to be a father, he has deposited sperm with a reputable clinic while he searches for a suitable mother. But a paroled convict working at the clinic steals the sperm, impregnates a teenager with it, and blackmails Pike—send money or we abort the child.
Although Pike’s idea of a suitable mother is not quite a waif from an Orlando trailer park, he is decent enough to be genuinely concerned about both mother and child.
Sloan pursues the thief and his buddies and, he hopes, the girl, through the Florida city’s sad neighborhoods and outlying cheap motels, calling on his drug-enhanced informers and a contact in the police. Getting closer brings him to the mangled bodies of the young mother-to-be’s relatives, and closer to his own danger as well. On he goes—Duncan Sloan may be a reluctant detective, but when he’s wound up he’s hard to stop.
Florida PI Duncan Sloan is a lot less laid-back than the jacket copy on this sassy, smart-talking thriller would have you believe. His style may be casual, but his detecting skills are up to the job of tracking the lowlifes who stole the sperm of a gay millionaire from a fertility clinic and put it into a trailer-park babe who’s dreaming of a big score when the baby is born.
Author Bob Truluck, winner of the 1999 St. Martin’s Press/PWA award for best first private eye novel, is a worthy addition to the ranks of thriller writers who cover the same scene. His sense of humor isn’t quite as warped as Carl Hiaasen’s and his characters aren’t quite as bizarre as Laurence Shames’s, but he works the territory well enough for the reader to feel the heat and hear the bugs in the palmetto trees. And Sloan, the womanizing dick with the sentimental soft side, is an interesting enough guy who may grow into a popular recurring hero. Truluck has a deft hand with his secondary characters, particularly Ike Pike, the aforementioned millionaire, whose dreams of fatherhood are barely affected by the criminal tendencies of the woman carrying his baby, and Steven Glass, Ike’s partner, who’s less than thrilled about his lover’s desire for a child. All the noirish details are in place, and Sloan’s knight-errant antecedents reach back almost as far as beloved private eye Travis McGee. A nice addition to the genre, Street Level has the feel of a first-in-a-series outing, with more of Sloan’s adventures already in the offing. —Jane Adams