JONATHAN VALIN – The Lime Pit. Harry Stoner #1. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1980. Avon, paperback, 1981. Dell, paperback, 1994.Avon, paperback, 1981. Dell, paperback, 1994.


   In the first couple pages, Stoner nabs a scam-artist for some local real estate moguls and gets paid handsomely. He feels a bit guilty about it since it was easy money from millionaires. So he’s more willing than usual to listen to a decrepit old man when he calls about a ridiculous missing person’s case.

   Hugo Cratz, in his 70’s, a stroke victim, impoverished and smelly, wants Stoner to find his “Cindy Ann”, a 16 year old runaway he was keeping house with. But it wasn’t like you think, he assures Stoner. Strictly platonic. He loved her. And she him. She took care of him, emptying bedpans and the like. She’d never leave him flat like this.

   So for Cratz’s last eight dollars in cash, Stoner agrees to put a half an hour into the job, starting with Cratz’s neighbors: The Jellicoes. The Jellicoes are a man and wife, friends of Cindy Ann, the one an NFL lineman-esque beefcake and the other a blond bombshell. And built.


   They tell Stoner that “Cindy Ann” eloped with her boyfriend on a Harley and didn’t want to hurt the old guy’s feelings by telling him. They’re exasperated by the old man — he’s already called the police on them telling ludicrous stories of a kidnapping. It’s a bunch of crap. He’s a gross old man. Why would a 16 year old girl want to be stuck emptying his bedpan for life?

   Stoner breaks the bad news to the old ma — who then springs it on him: The Jellicoes are running a hard trade sex ring — specializing in torture and pedophilia. And he hands Stoner a shoebox of photos to prove it.

   The old man has Stoner hooked. Though he can’t afford to pay him, Stoner agrees to try to find Cindy Ann and bust the Jellicoes.

   From here it’s quite intricate and detailed. There’s a lot of detective work. Heavy on descriptions. Some dead ends — but mostly a linear map that weaves around from point to point. From place to place. From witness to witness.


   I read it on my kindle — but it’s apparently 270 pages. And it felt like it. It’s long. Not overlong really. But it’s certainly not a fast read. All the scenes were probably necessary. But like I said, the descriptions are fairly intricate — more so than I typically prefer. I prefer a writer that trusts the reader to fill in the blanks. But hey. Different strokes for different stroke victims.

   There’s some shockingly heavy violence as well, which comes suddenly and in stark contrast to the somewhat languorous scene setting.

   It all comes together in the end, leaving the reader with ennui and wist. Not dissimilar to the feeling I had at the end of The Last Good Kiss or The Long Goodbye. The feeling of the lone man, with only his bruised conscience to salve him. In a world that could not care less.