Tue 27 Sep 2016
by Karol Kay Hope:
LINDA BARNES – Bitter Finish. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1983. Fawcett, paperback, 1985. Dell, paperback, 1994.
Michael Spraggue is falling down a flight of steps, the voice of his stunt instructor screaming at him to use his thighs and hips to break the impact of the sharp cement. As the star of Hollywood’s latest private-eye melodrama, shooting on location in Boston, Spraggue leaves the car chases to the pros, but the light stunts he likes to do himself.
An independently wealthy ex-private investigator turned actor, he’s quit the business because he’s “mostly dug up dirt everybody would have been better off not knowing.” But an emergency phone call summons him back to California’s Napa Valley, where Kate Holloway, his not quite ex-lover and longtime business partner in the Holloway Hills Winery, is in jail as a material witness to murder.
Kicking and screaming (he really does hate being a private eye), Michael flies to the rescue. The victim is Holloway Hills’ flamboyant Hungarian winemaker — the second in what the papers are calling the “car trunk murders.” Kate is notorious in the valley — she’s six feet tall, gorgeous, and makes as good a wine as many male vintners — and the not-so-bright deputy sheriff is certain she’s a killer as well. Michael seems to be the only person on the scene smart enough to figure out who stashed those cadavers in the trunks of cars, and the deputy sheriff, of course, won’t talk to him.
The complicated love situation between Spraggue and Kate is probably the most interesting part of this story, although Barnes does give us a lovely picture of the Napa Valley at harvest time and lots of detail on the wine making industry. The action moves well, the clues are nicely hidden, and the reader isn’t bored — but neither is the reader glued to the edge of his seat.
Spraggue ends up, predictably, all by his lonesome with a crazed killer in a deserted winery at the end of a rarely traveled road. The writing is light, entertaining, and stylistically sound; and hopefully as Linda Barnes matures as a writer, so will Spraggue and company.
Michael Spraggue also appears in Dead Heat (1984).
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.
Bibliographic Notes: Spaggue’s first appearance was in Blood Will Have Blood (1982). A fourth and final book in the series was Cities Of The Dead, published in 1986. In 1987 Linda Barnes switched series characters and wrote A Trouble of Fools, the first of twelve novels featuring cab-driving PI Carlotta Carlyle, based in Boston.