Stealing the Dragon
Beating the Babuska
Greasing the Piñata
Boxing the Octopus
by Tim Maleeny
These 21st-century-San Francisco-novels are armchair tourist delights. In the Cape Weathers series the protagonist is an ex-reporter-turned-investigator who operates out of a one-man office overlooking The Embarcadero. Although set in the recent present, the writing style is strictly old-school. Cape’s one-liners and his repartee with the other characters would fit right in with Dashiell Hammett, with a liberal helping of Elmore Leonard added to the tasty mix.
Stealing the Dragon starts the series off with a bang—a freighter with a human cargo of refugees crashes into Alcatraz island, setting into motion a yarn of intrigue involving a shadowy Chinese crime dynasty with flashbacks to a ninja school and modern excursions into the underworld of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Beating the Babuska finds Cape working for a movie studio that may be involved in a rival gang war between Italian, Chinese and Russian mobsters. In Greasing the Piñata Cape visits Mexican drug lords, while Boxing the Octopus explores corrupt high finance, an octopus is one of the supporting characters!
Cape has help from supporting cast of interesting recurring characters: Sally, a lesbian ninja; Linda, a electro-phobic reporter, The Sloth, an unlikely computer expert; and Beau and Vincent, SFPD homicide investigators who reluctantly put up with Capes shenanigans. The plots are tight, the action moves along at a brisk clip (James-Bondish at times) and the writing is clean. All of them feature San Francisco as a backdrop and, if the story does leave the city for a while (especially in Greasing), I found myself waiting for its return to the bay area. These are each about 300+ pages—maybe a little long for an airplane flight but just about the right length for a rainy weekend read. Literary fast food.
Jump, the stand-alone, stars the recently retired cop Sam cop who is drawn into an investigation when his landlord apparently commits suicide by jumping from the fire escape of his building. This is very black and grisly comedy, with every quirky tenant on his floor a suspect and a shady drug lord thrown into the mix. This is a trashy, sleazy novel with no literary nutritional values—in other words: a perfect waste of time.
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