Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Black Moon – Robert J. Randisi and Ruth Ashby, eds.

©1989 Lynx Books, New York

Sometimes you run across a book that defies classification. Is it a novel? Is it a short story collection? In this respect we’re in a quandary about The Black Moon. On the other hand, this collective novel is definitely a Private I. work of fiction. Drawing from the expertise of five excellent P.I. writers, the story that is woven has lots to offer.

The premise is that there is a collective work of art—five paintings that are actually one work of art. The “Ladies in the Cathedral” collection is stolen from a post-WWII Italian museum that was guarded by three US soldiers. During the course of the crime, one of the Americans is killed, and the thieves get away with the paintings. Forty years later, the paintings are resurfacing in five different US cities.

Enter five writers with five different private investigators. Most are ex-cops. Two are the surviving guards from the Italian museum.

In this collection/novel you’ll find five different approaches to the P.I. novel. Robert Randisi expertly introduces and resolves the mystery telling the story through the voice of Salvatore Carlucci. Carlucci enlists the help of his old co-guard Ralph Parnell (written with the humor and flair of P.I. great Ed Gorman), Miami investigator Tony Mack (penned by W. R. Philbrick), Laura Bailey—the daughter of his respected and recently deceased friend, Jim Bailey—Dallas investigator who is brought to life by L. J. Washburn, and Iron Harbor (Michigan) police chief/part-time private investigator Riley Cooper (who comes to life via the pen of veteran PI writer Loren D. Estleman) to find the paintings so that they can be returned to the Italian government.

Philbrick is the only one of the authors that I had been (prior to this reading) unfamiliar with, but I discovered that he showed himself adept at telling a good mystery. I must admit that I was most disappointed with the segment by one of my favorite authors, L. J. Washburn. It was her name on the cover that drew my attention to the collection. Even with the disjointed portion by Washburn (she needed more pages to develop the story, it seemed), the overall outcome was a surprisingly enjoyable encounter. Even though each author chose a different style (from hardboiled, to edgy modern) with their respective private eyes, the story flowed.

This is not the first (nor the last) attempt at the collective mystery, but it is an excellent foray into team project writing. Well worth your while if you can find it on a used bookstore shelf.

Three and one-half stars.

—Benjamin Potter, May 6, 2009

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