Beautiful women are typically trouble for hardboiled private detectives.
Add to that a fabulously valuable golden artifact, a professional hit man, an elusive Iraqi diplomat and a couple of pointblank murders, and you have the first excellent installment in the Bart Northcote series by standout author Murray Lee Eiland, Jr.
Northcote, the hardboiled P.I., accepts the unusual case at the behest of buxom client Vanessa Vader (not her real name), and together, they begin a search for Vanessa’s dubious partners in a scheme to sell the 20-carat gold Ishtar Cup.
Soon they find themselves the target of a ruthless killer who — as one of the original partners in the sales scheme — has now decided to snuff the others and seize the entire $5 million fee for himself.
Bart, in typically terse P.I. prose, describes his dilemma about continuing the dangerous gig:
“I was well into my fifth day of work for Vanessa, and so far my only accomplishments had been to get two people killed. I had a bad feeling about the case, but I wanted to give everything the best chance to work out for her.”
He’s a private detective with a heart of gold, and it’s this very quality in the lead character that makes the novel rise far above others in this genre. Its surprise-a-minute, never-predictable plot twists will keep you turning pages far into the night.
Along the way, Bart finds himself (a) a suspect in the first murder, (b) dressed in drag for a rendezvous with the Iraqi diplomat, and (c) in and out of bed with his voluptuous client so often you’ll join him in marveling at his good luck.
There are many instances of choice dry humor scattered throughout, as when a lovestruck LAPD detective makes a pass at Northcote while he is in his femme fatale disguise:
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” the detective asks hopefully. “Have I arrested you before?”
Or, there’s this observation by Bart after a harrowing shootout:
“I still carried with me the residual fear from a near encounter with death, and Vanessa was sitting next to me talking about bra sizes as an ultimate measure of character.”
There is so much to like about this book. There’s the obvious mystery inherent in the Ishtar Cup’s genesis and astronomical value. There’s the very real danger to Bart and Vanessa as they try to recover the reverberent relic.
And, surprisingly, there’s the deeply hidden but terribly telling character trait regarding one major character — not revealed until the very end. It’s a suitable wrap-up to a well-told tale.
Five stars to The Ishtar Cup. It works well as an ingenious introduction to a new favorite in PI fiction.