|Owl Book Edition 1980|
This isn't your standard California detective mystery, as the blurbs on my edition would have you believe. One even refers to Hansen as "a worthy successor" to Hammett. Well, Hansen and Hammett have names that begin with H, but that's about it for comparing the two as far as I'm concerned. This is a moodier, measured novel than Hammett's novels are. Dave Brandstetter is an insurance investigator, not a private eye, and is mourning the loss of a loved one as the novel begins. You don't get the feeling that Brandstetter is a "shoot first and ask questions later" type of guy.
The mystery concerns a missing person named Fox Olsen. It appears, to Brandstetter anyway, to be a staged car accident off a bridge in the rain instead of accidental death. Something just like the cover shows above. No body is found and before any life insurance is going to be doled out to the beneficiaries, Brandstetter has to verify that our missing and supposedly dead Fox Olsen isn't trying to pull a scam for the insurance money. Still, Olsen seemed happy enough, and successful enough in town with his popular radio show. So why take the fade-out?
The more Brandstetter probes the life of Fox Olsen the deeper things get. For one thing, Fox Olsen was a frustrated artist and writer. Add to that a marriage that harbored infidelity. To further complicate matters, an old friend of Olsen's returns after 20 years to rekindle a relationship the two had before Olsen joined the Air Force.
The novel was published in 1969, and I would imagine the gay themes, in addition to a gay detective protagonist were pretty controversial at the time. The mystery of the relationship doesn't take long for Brandstetter or the reader to figure out, especially to a modern reader.
I liked the novel and would recommend it to readers who enjoy the Lew Archer mysteries. Also for readers who don't mind a more poetic depiction of a time in California that you don't see in 60's news-reels. I have the next four novels in the series and am looking forward to reading them. I understand that the as the series progresses so does Brandstetter in age and maturity. I believe they're still in print and available in e-format. I also see that there is a single edition of all twelve Brandstetter novels available through third-party sellers, but the price is a bit steep for that one.