HUNTING SWEETIE ROSE, by Jack Fredrickson (hardcover, $25.99)
Jack Fredrickson has written three Vlodek "Dek" Elstrom books, two of which I've read and enjoyed tremendously. Fredrickson has the right mix of humor, good characters, interesting plot. It takes a while to brew this mix -- there have been three years between books -- but it's worth the wait.
Dek lives in a castle. Actually, Dek lives in a turret, the only part of the castle his grandfather finished, in a town just west of Chicago. The turret requires extensive work, which Dek accomplishes slowly as he can afford it. He has had to battle both the Rivertown town council who wants to zone him out of existence and his own impecunious state. Dek was once a high-powered investigator, but now he's grateful for the occasional case. His fall from grace came when he was accused of an indiscretion which he did not commit. Everyone heard the accusation, but very few heard the exoneration. Misfortune heaped upon misfortune, he and his wife divorced soon after the fall when Dek turned to alcohol while wallowing in self-pity.
That's the background. Now here's the current situation: A man in a limo hires Dek to investigate the death of a clown who fell from the top of a building while entertaining a crowd. The police say it was suicide, but the mysterious client hints otherwise.
Of course, it soon becomes something other than a clown falling off a building. With the help of his colorful old friend, Leo Brumsky, Dek's ex-wife, and a new -- and beautiful -- friend who happens to be a reporter, Dek soon finds something rotten in Chicago high society.
From tales of the antics of septuagenarian Ma Brumsky and her pole dancing friends to an explanation of why Dek needs to plant flowers on his jeep, Fredrickson's humorous touches never detract from the main storylines, but they're a wonderful addition. Here's a description of a business secretary Dek faces down:
"She's a formidable, helmet-haired woman with a British accent and a Transylvanian demeanor. Her name is Buffy, and that is the only laugh she offers the world."
Then once he forges into the office's inner sanctum:
"I sat down on leather taken from a burgundy cow."
From the description of a Chicago building called the Wilbur Wright:
"Even though the Wilbur Wright was small -- ten stories is nothing in a city anymore -- the Wright brothers for sure would have been impressed. I was standing higher than they first flew, and I'd made the ascent without getting a single bug stuck to my teeth."
The humor balances the poignancy of Dek's own story and the tale of Sweetie Fairbairn.
If only Fredrickson's publisher would see fit to issue the Dek Elstrom books in paperback, it would be a perfect world.