White with Fish, Red with Murder: A Frank Swiver Novel by Harley Mazuk (Driven Press, $15.99, 372 pages)
White with Fish, Red with Murder is a debut work by Harley Mazuk. This is a mystery novel with some clever locations, quirky characters, and pitch perfect 1940s dialogue. The narrator, Frank Swiver, is a private detective in San Francisco – circa 1948, who is eager for a paying client. As luck would have it, Frank’s interest in wine is the ticket to a job! Retired General Lloyd F. Thursby has planned an excursion on his private rail car with wine tasting as the entertainment.
“Hey, sweetheart. Sorry I was late. You look like a million bucks, you know?”
The general has an ulterior motive. His good friend Rusty O’Callaghan was murdered and the general wants Swiver to finger the guilty party as the train wends its way from Oakland, CA to the wine country. Swiver, under cover as a writer, brings along his trusty secretary/girlfriend, Vera, ostensibly as his date; but actually Vera is working with Swiver. The party becomes complicated as each of the invitees boards the train. The most notable guest, as far as Swiver and Vera are concerned, is Rusty’s widow, Cici O’Callaghan. And, to make matters more complicated, Swiver and Cici have a shared romantic past.
“Look kid, I know you’re sore at me. But the surest way to get you out of here is to find the real killer…”
Author Harley Mazuk has done his homework. The cast of characters is straight out of a black and white mystery movie ala George Raft and Edward G. Robinson. Even their names are indicative of the era. And the language fits the period: “A dame who may have been on the make perched at the other end (of the bar).”
Mazuk’s attention to detail is remarkable. Of course it helps that this reviewer’s all-time favorite movie is the 1944 classic, Laura, making me a suitable critic of these matters. And, I think mystery readers of all ages will be sure to enjoy the train trip and ensuing action to its conclusion.
The only slight detraction lies with the book’s cover art. Yes, the story could be considered to be of the noir genre; however, the color and placement of the author’s name is far too dark. Mazuk deserves better billing.
A review copy was received from a publicist.
“A delicious throwback to the PI stories of Hammett and Chandler when all the dames had shapely gams.” Alan Orloff, author of Running From the Past.