Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: M. Ruth Myers

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

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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.  Continue Reading →

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Get a load of this one, will ya

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The Barefoot Stiff, a Maggie Sullivan short story
M. Ruth Myers
Tuesday House
16 pages $.99 Kindle

Looks like the scrappy female PI is in trouble again. A man “who looked large enough for a prize fighter through the shoulders” busts into her office demanding something. She pleads ignorance. “Keep lying,” the hulking stranger says, “and I’ll make you sorry, toots.”

Toots, is depression-era gumshoe Maggie Sullivan, creation of Shamus Award-winning author M. Ruth Myers. Sullivan makes her living exploring dark alleys, getting beat up and cracking wise as well as any male detective of the literary era.

Homicide lieutenant Freeze is questioning Sullivan about the case she’s working on:

Two assistants who trailed Freeze everywhere leaned against the wall. One was taking notes while his pal memorized my legs.

Continue Reading →

Award-winning 1930s private eye is ready for anything

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Picture a PI’s office in the late 1930s. It’s a third-floor walk-up. There’s a bottle in the gumshoe’s bottom drawer and a .38 just out of sight. If you’re picturing a Sam Spade type character behind the desk, you’d be right—except for her gender.

Maggie Sullivan is a savvy, resourceful private detective who walks the mean streets and privileged neighborhoods of Dayton, Ohio. She’s the creation of author M. Ruth Myers and her latest caper, Don’t Dare a Dame, recently earned a Shamus award from the Private Eye Writers of America. It’s a dandy PI tale with enough surprises to keep you guessing and Myers’s steady hand to tell the engrossing story in rich, nuanced tones.

The story starts with two “old maids” hiring Sullivan to find out what happened to their father 25 years ago when he disappeared during a great Don't-Dare-a-Dameflood. Records were lost during the flood, many of the buildings in the area where the father disappeared are long gone and memories of the events are fading.

Sullivan tells her clients that chances of finding the truth are slim. But in the course of her investigation, Sullivan stirs up old animosities, turns up at the site of a suspicious death that might be related to the father’s disappearance and runs afoul of enough menacing figures to make you wonder what will happen to her in the next chapter.

Authentic depression-era descriptions and language put the reader firmly in the past. For example, her years-gone-by vocabulary includes snazzy and moxie. She describes a man as having “a leading-man moustache.” And Sullivan sometimes gets information by calling people and pretending to be someone she isn’t, a technique that an investigator could use easily in a time long before cell phones and caller ID.

Another feature of pre-war America (still around if you look under the glass ceiling) that Myers uses to good effect, is prejudice. Sullivan is a woman doing a man’s job. The quick detective usually handles slights and snide remarks with aplomb, sometimes letting the reader in on what she really thinks: He shot me a smile that was probably meant to suggest we gals were bright as buttons.

Humor also plays a part in the entertainment value of the book and to get Sullivan’s (Myers’s) gender equity points across.

As Sullivan questions a witness who is walking her dog, the person reveals startling information.

“That wrenched my attention away from her little dog, who was sniffing my ankle and some nearby bushes with equal enthusiasm.”

When someone tries to pick her up on the street, Sullivan has an answer:

“That’s some hat, sweetheart. Want to show it off over a beer and a sandwich?”

“Hey, thanks for the nice offer, but I’m looking for someone.”

“What’s he got that I haven’t?”

“V.D.,” I said.

He took off fast.

Myers handles little details that give a story depth and realism. For example, Sullivan wants to talk to a store clerk when the clerk’s boss is gone. Sullivan waits outside until the boss leaves, but rather than rush in, Sullivan tells us she waited ten minutes more in case he forgot something.

Sullivan enters the variety store and approaches the clerk who was interested in disclosing important facts, however, “[The clerk’s] eyes made a businesslike sweep of the store first, making sure everything was under control.”

I think these are little details make a story come alive. And Myer’s prose is alive with gritty dialog, unusual characters and the first-person emotions and thoughts that have us following Sullivan into every dark alley.  This gritty PI novel is part of the Maggie Sullivan series.  You’ll want to hunt for more.

As a parting shot, here are a few of my favorite noir lines:

“The pub in the bottom drawer of my desk was always open.”

“Because of my work I’d seen more than my share of ugliness that hid in life’s corners. Nonetheless, the Warren’s marital arrangement made my skin crawl.”

“The St. George Hotel fell somewhere between the Ritz and a roach farm. It inclined toward the latter.”

 

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