Title: Skid Row Serenade
Author: J.S. Cook
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 210 Pages
At a Glance: Complex characters and romance make for an exciting mystery.
Reviewed By: Maryann
Blurb: In the tradition of novel noir, nothing is ever quite as it seems.
Novelist and war hero Tony Leonard sees private investigator Edwin Malory being mugged outside a seaman’s mission in downtown Los Angeles, so he takes him home and gives him clean clothes and access to a hot shower. It doesn’t take him long to discover Malory was hired by wealthy industrialist Linton Vanderbilt Stirling, the father of Tony’s estranged wife, Janet. The reason for this is simple: Tony’s father-in-law suspects him of drinking away his daughter’s personal fortune.
On a whim, Tony drops in on Janet one night and finds her naked, dead, and tied up, her skull beaten in. Horrified, Tony flees the scene, knowing that as her husband, he is the number one suspect in the killing. He sees only one way out. He needs to fake his own death.
And who better to send his “suicide note” to than Edwin Malory.
Review: Tony “Lionheart” Leonard is more than just a novelist. During his military service his face was mutilated, and he was held and tortured for a year by the Gestapo. He struggles with Lupus, alcoholism, and he has a dark side. When his darkest days were over, he looked for the light and married Janet Stirling, a party girl who couldn’t have cared less what anyone thought of her. Janet grew up wealthy, and everyone was convinced that Tony was a drunk and only married Janet for the money. As time went on, they became estranged, and when he goes to see her one day, he finds her dead. Tony goes on the run and heads to Mexico where he meets “Seeker,” and they devise a plan—Tony becomes “muertos vivientes” the living dead.
Under strange circumstances, Tony and Ed Malory become friends. Ed is a private investigator, and he and Tony share interests that bring them together. Ed is younger than Tony, and he seems like the strong silent type. He and Tony face danger from some unlikely foes while trying to solve Janet’s murder. He and Tony have their moments of passion too, but jealousy and the thought of an inheritance from Janet’s death cause some doubts in the progressing relationship.
I really liked J.S. Cook’s portrayal of Tony. He turns out to be a good detective while using his novelist skills, and he has a way with people, so they are willing to give him information. No matter if Ed or McAverty warn him off of the case, he’s persistent in his need to solve the crime. He seems sort of an elusive character, though, because Ed tried to look into Tony’s history and couldn’t find any information on him.
The entire story is seen from Tony’s POV, with complex characters and romance making for an exciting mystery. Ms. Cook also makes Skid Row Serenade a little eerie, taking Tony to Mexico during “Dia de los Muertos.” This novel is loaded with unsavory characters, Federales, FBI, LAPD, drugs, porn, and jealousy. The story takes us to 1940s Southern California, on a journey with many twisted clues that keep us guessing and intrigued right to the end.
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