MICHAEL COLLINS “A Death in Monecito.” Short story. PI Dan Fortune. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1995. Collected in Fortune’s World (Crippen & Landru, 2000).

   Montecito is a small but exclusive community area located east of Santa Barbara, a fact which is important in how one-armed PI Dan Fortune approaches this case of murder he’s asked by the victim’s lawyer to look into. The woman’s death is assumed to have been perpetrated by a burglar caught in the act by her, but the arrangement of the furniture seems to Fortune’s client to have been changed. But why? No ordinary burglar would not have done that.

   Posing as a would-be buyer of the house, even before it goes on the market, Fortune does his initial investigation at the scene of the crime itself and by talking to the dead woman’s two daughters, as different from each other as night and day, one a rising Hollywood star, the other the owner of a local boutique. There are other suspects as well, if indeed a burglar was not responsible, and the solution to the cases is a nicely woven combination of clues (minor) and personalities (major).

   In spite of the bright clear skies of sunny California, or perhaps brought out all the more out in contrast, a melancholy mode persists throughout the story, as is the case in many of Fortune’s adventures, and the ending doubly so.