Wheels and Deals Thicken Plot of a Story Tangled With Scam Artists


In the fast and furiously entertaining 1992 yarn “32 Cadillacs,” Joe Gores pitted the dedicated operatives of San Francisco’s DKA (Daniel Kearny & Associates) detective agency against a formidable crew of wily and quick-witted Gypsies who had stolen the aforementioned vehicles.

In “Cons, Scams & Grifts” (Mysterious Press, $24.95, 324 pages), the Gypsies once again interact with Kearny and company, only this time they seem to be working in tandem, trying to locate an ousted member of the tribe suspected of murder.

That’s just one of an assortment of tasks facing both private dicks and Romanies. The sleuths are also committed to recovering 27 stolen classic cars, while the Gypsies are otherwise occupied scamming enough loot for plane fare to Rome, where they hope to share the wealth of the tourists taking part in the Jubilee celebration.


Drawing on years of sleuthing San Francisco for an agency very much like DKA, Gores presents enough delightfully dark and devious behavior for a couple of novels and several short stories. And there are more characters than you’ll find in “The Canterbury Tales,” several in disguise, the whole crowd wheeling and dealing, lying and cheating.

In hands less capable than Gores’, all would be chaos. But the author did not pick up his Edgar Allan Poe awards by letting his plots get out of hand.

Smoothly and surely, he adds the little touches that make each character memorable, while describing the action with such lucidity that even the most complex twists and shifts may be taken in stride by the reader.

Finally, like the grifters he so gleefully depicts, the author saves his biggest and best scam for last.


Robert Skinner’s “Pale Shadow” (Poisoned Pen Press, $23.95, 227 pages), the fifth novel of a dark and sometimes violent series set in bygone New Orleans, reunites his colorful crew of good guys, bad guys and good-bad guys for more grim derring-do, this time circa 1940.

His hero, Wes Farrell, a charismatic restaurateur with ties to both upper-and underworld, is searching the less traveled byways of the Crescent City for Luis Martinez, an old pal from his smuggling days.


Farrell knows that others are searching for Martinez too--treasury agent Paul Ewell, Sgt. Israel Daggett of the Negro Detective Squad, a sadistic hit man named Dixie Ray Chavez, minor gangster Santiago Compasso and a mysterious, unidentified figure who seems to be at the heart of all the villainy.

The reason for the sudden interest in Martinez is because he has stolen the novel’s MacGuffin--the plates necessary for a world-class counterfeit money scam.

In short, hard-hitting scenes, Skinner tells us where most of the principal players are headed and why.

But he provides no more information than we need to know at the moment, waiting for the perfect opportunity to unleash a surprise or a prime clue.

While Farrell follows a trail to the elusive Martinez, his young protege and partner, Marcel Aristide, is searching the city for a brilliant con man who has taken advantage of a beautiful country girl.

As is the case in any crime novel worth the name, the two quests connect, but in a way that is as unique as it is unexpected.


“Pale Shadow” is great fun for those who like their mysteries hardboiled and/or semi-historical.


Paula L. Woods’ “Stormy Weather” (Norton, $24.95, 299 pages), like its predecessor, “Inner City Blues,” takes advantage of Los Angeles’ past.

“Inner” unfolded during the Rodney King riots; “Stormy” picks up the continuing post-riots story of Charlotte Justice, the first black woman to be invited into the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, as she continues to fight departmental bureaucracy and prejudice and her superior’s attempts to discredit her or worse.

I can’t think of another writer who so clearly delineates the inner workings of the police department and its often devious ways of carrying out its mission “To Protect and to Serve.”

Woods is equally on point in crafting an intriguing mystery involving the death of an elderly African American filmmaker.

Was it natural or did somebody help the fatally ill Maynard Duncan escape a good deal of pain and anguish?


If the latter, was it an act of kindness, or did it have anything to do with his pet project, a historical documentary on blacks in the film industry?

In poking about Duncan’s history, Charlotte uncovers quite a lot about the way the film studio bosses mistreated even the most talented and creative black artists.

She also has some interesting observations about the ways films have influenced and affected our lives.

Just about everything involving Charlotte’s professional life is fascinating.

A bit less so, in my opinion, is her personal life, in which she seeks rapprochement with her angry, overprotective mother and understanding from a doctor boyfriend who, when the chips are down, isn’t always there for her.

A hard-working cop like Charlotte deserves better.


Dick Lochte, author of “Lucky Dog and Other Tales of Murder” (Five Star) and the prize-winning novel, “Sleeping Dog” (Poisoned Pen Press), reviews mysteries every other week. Next week: Rochelle O’Gorman on audio books.