alcatraz

Boss is back, and he’s better and badder than ever. When a new client gets whacked with a ball peen hammer, he takes it personally. After all, he’s already been paid one hundred large ones to initiate a Correction on an elderly gent who lied to her. It’s a matter of principle for the Southern Scot to solve the case. “We can’t stop our clients from dying,” Boss opines. “But they shouldn’t get murdered before we begin.”

Trouble is, the gent in question has also turned up dead, strapped to a chair with holes drilled through his digits. Boss has his usual gargantuan breakfast and begins the investigation, with the dubious aid of a petite martial artist named Dirty Boy.

This is Reb MacRath at his best, penning another sensational hardboiled mystery starring his larger-than-life hero Boss MacTavin. In this installment, set in the seedier sections of San Francisco, Boss must reconstruct the events leading up to the untimely deaths of his client, Val Sparks, and her octagenarian suitor, Lew Miles, a famed private detective in the City by the Bay. Quirky characters abound and Boss’s, ahem, creative investigational techniques help him peel back the layers covering up the facts like a voracious vegan devouring a ripe artichoke.

Boss makes time at the start to help his lover, Mai Lin, escape from an odious debt to a vicious nightclub owner. But he’s barely finished helping her when his case takes two very sharp twists: Thornton Crockett, Lew’s former lawyer, coughs up some shocking information and Boss finds a hidden room in Lew Miles’s mansion–a small room designed like a prison cell.

As the story evolves further, the lighthouse at Alcatraz looms large — though exactly why Lew’s killer positioned his death chair facing the venerable landmark continues to elude both Boss and DB, MacTavin decides to enlist the aid of crime boss Don Sal Vitale. As he approaches the restaurant where the Don is dining, we are treated to the author’s inimitable tough-guy description of the scene:

“As I eyed it across Grant Street, I heard the theme from Jaws. Three goombahs loafed, looking cool, on the walk. Their bodies strained the buttons of their flashy tailored suits. They’d pomaded their hair and been shaved by a pro.”

It is this kind of superb description that makes this book a joy to read. Every other paragraph serves up another literary bon mot. Witness, for example, Boss’s choice reaction to an undesirable suggestion: “I’d sooner lick a hemorrhoid,” he exclaims.

The story dips and weaves unexpectedly as Boss begins to pull together the amazing tale behind Lew’s execution. The bodies begin to pile up and it seems no one — and I do mean NO one — is exempt from the bloodbath that follows in the wake of Boss’s determined search for the ruthless and deranged killer.

The Alcatraz Correction is a bona fide thrill ride of a mystery, loaded with surprise revelations you won’t see coming, and a stunning ending that is, well, purely Boss.

Five-plus stars to this fine piece of fiction. It truly is in a class all its own.

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