Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Missing persons case filled with twists, turns at dawn of Pearl Harbor

1
Maximum Moxie, A Maggie Sullivan mystery
M. Ruth Myers
Tuesday House   Sept. 2016
$3.99 Kindle  $11.99 trade paper
262 pages

Book reviews, particularly for suspense novels, often begin by describing all the action of the first few chapters.  I’m not going to do that here.

In the first chapter of Maximum Moxie, Ruth Myers’ fifth PI novel in the series, Loren Collingswood walks into Maggie Sullivan’s office with a problem.   He’s a founder of a technology company and one of his most brilliant employees has disappeared.  The missing engineer is the key to a new project the company is scheduled to introduce in a week. And Collingswood says he’s been getting maximum-moxiestrange phone calls.  But, he says, “It can’t have anything to do with Gil [the missing employee].  It can’t have anything to do with me.”

Whether the calls are related to the disappearance remains to be seen, but the rest of the scene in Sullivan’s office contains an unconventional surprise you’ll have to discover yourself.

Ultimately,  Sullivan gets the missing persons job.  Now, before you get the wrong idea about a technology company, remember that Sullivan started out as a private eye in 1930s Dayton, Ohio. This book is set in the first week of December 1941.  Technically, that’s one of the surprises—but by no means the only one—in the first chapter.  But never mind, it’s mentioned on the back cover, so the date is no spoiler. The impending war gives the novel an extra sense of uncertainty and realism and provides a hint that the mysterious technology project might have military applications.

Searching for the missing engineer, Sullivan, a scrappy 5-foot-2-inch, 27-year-old, has to first determine if Gil Tremain is a kidnap or murder victim, a blackmailer, thief or traitor. Is he alive or dead?  As Sullivan knows, if Tremain is in peril, the sooner she locates him the greater her chances of not finding him dead. 

Although she’s brought into the case by one of the tech company’s two founders, virtually no one at C & S Signals provides any useful information.  Some are hostile, others secretive.  A witness is murdered, Sullivan is attacked and the plot moves ahead swiftly.

Maximum Moxie is rife with classic gumshoe action.  Sullivan pokes her nose, and her .38, into dark places such as an old garage that yields an unexpected discovery that’s either illuminating, or confusing in a case that seems to turn back on itself.

Authentic touches keep the story anchored in the early 1940s.  Myers uses obvious things such as cars, clothes and news events, but also more mundane items from the period.  For example, Sullivan’s boyfriend suggests she treat a cut with Unguentine, an early antiseptic ointment.  Sullivan facetiously describes herself as polite as Emily Post, and we see her slicing bread and inserting it into the side of a toaster.  No question. This is 1941 America.

When war is declared, the responses throughout the city not only add color and complications to the story, they offer a reminder of the challenges our society faced when the United States finally entered World War II.  Myers’ descriptions of the emotions and reactions contain some of the best lines in the book.  The circumstances may remind you of 9-11.

“As I drove I could almost pick out which people knew [about Pearl Harbor] and which didn’t….”

Sullivan fans will be intrigued to learn a bit more about her family background where “corrosive silence…passed as our home life.”  Her history influences her continuing relationship with uniformed officer Mick Connelly. Things happen between them that give the reader incentive to wait for book #6.

A threat of Nazi sympathizers, a painful visit with a Mob boss and the discovery of a possible new ally (plus a feathered one) raise the stakes for Sullivan as Myers delivers another solid period PI yarn with noir twists.

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M. Ruth Myers won the Shamus from the Private Eye Writers of America for her third Maggie Sullivan mystery.  She’s written more than a dozen novels in several categories. Maximum Moxie is the fifth in the series.  Myers has also written three Sullivan short stories, available separately also on Amazon. For more information on Maximum Moxie, click on the book cover. For more details on the WWII homefront, read Myers’ blog,  https://galgumshoe.com/

 

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