With Moses Wine, Roger L. Simon's once free-spirited, dope-smoking, "people's detective" (introduced in The Big Fix, 1973) having dulled the bite of his political cynicism over the years--and even threatening to go Republican!--theres an opening ...
opening for a new American anti-establishment gumshoe. Now applying for the job: the pseudonymous "Warren Ritter," a 55-year-old former "revolutionary guerilla" whos been hiding out from The Man for the last three decades (ever since an explosion in which he supposedly died), and who has worked for the last six years as a tarot card reader in counter-cultural Berkeley, California.
When we first meet him, in David Skibbins's Eight of Swords, this anarchist-hero is offering his "fortune-telling jive" to Heather Wellington, a plucky brunette teenager burdened with a controlling stepfather, a black boyfriend her parents don't approve of, and a cretinish, gang-running ex-beau she can't seem to shake. Discomfited by the "oncoming cataclysm" forecast in her future, Warren chooses to downplay any imminent threats. But the next thing he knows, Heather's been kidnapped, he stumbles across her mothers corpse in a downtown park, "pigs" (police) begin peppering him with questions, and his elderly therapist suggests that Warren expunge his guilt in these matters by locating the missing girl. For someone who's trying to lie low, solving crimes isn't exactly in the cards. However, this motorcycle-riding fugitive has picked up a few tough-guy moves during his "underground" years, and more than his fair share of resentment against an unjust world. So, assisted by a paraplegic computer hacker and a Hispanic security specialist, Warren embarks on a rescue mission that will lead him to tangle with malicious car thieves and meddlesome feds, face down slavering guard dogs, and--all in a days work--foil an incendiary bomb designed to destroy evidence of several crimes.
Although Eight of Swords won the 2004 Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Press contest for Best First Traditional Mystery, the conventionality of this series debut shows only in its methodical progress from clues to conclusions. And, save for his tendency to refer to women as "chicks," theres nothing especially old-fashioned about Warren Ritter--a man prone to bipolar mood swings and haunted by his past: abandoned lovers, a sister who's only just discovered he's still alive, and a daughter he has never met. Skibbins, a California life coach, demonstrates a flair for dramatic pacing and plausible character development. If Warren can resist fleeing whenever his carefully constructed façade seems endangered, bright prospects for this rebel detective with a cause might not be so hard to predict. --J. Kingston Pierce