JOHN BIRKETT – The Queen’s Mare. Michael Rhineheart #2. Avon, paperback original; 1st printing, 1990.

   Michael Rhineheart is a blue-collar type private detective operating in Louisville, Kentucky. (Maybe he’s the reason that Haskell Blevins had to flee to Pigeon Fork to hang up his shingle.) He has a young secretary named McGraw who doesn’t like to be called one and who passionately yearns to join Rhineheart in detecting and is also assisted when he needs it by a much older private detective named Farnsworth.

   In this offering he is hired to act as go-between in the delivery of ransom money for a kidnapped mare and colt; but not just any mare and colt These are owned by one of the leading Bluegrass families, and are due to be part of an exhibition soon for the Queen of England.

   The family has the obligatory strange members and twisty past, and it’s soon obvious that the problems revolve around that past, the family, or both. The aged matriarch who hired Rhineheart is ambivalent about it all, and has problems of her own. The overall impact of the tale was diminished severely for me by an ending that I couldn’t believe in.

   I enjoyed the book while reading it, though. If Birkett isn’t in the top rank of PI writers, he nevertheless tells a good story, and the protagonists are likeable. People are perhaps a tad more willing to spill their guts on cue to our hero than reality would dictate, and there’s of course the obligatory personal friend on the police department, but he’s hardly alone in using (and over-using) these conventions.

   I enjoyed the first Rhineheart book, The Last Private Eye (Avon, 1988) also.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #2, July 1992.

Editorial Comment:   These are the only two books by John Birkett in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV. The author died in 2009 in his early 70s.