Friday, November 03, 2006
Redding novelist sics a PI on monkey business at the Albuquerque Zoo
By DAN BARNETT
Steve Brewer may live with his family in Redding, and give readings from his novels in the Bay Area, but he left his heart in Albuquerque. Not to worry, though; private investigator Bubba Mabry is on the job in that fair city and reports back in a series of novels that are easily digested and self-deprecatingly funny.
Publishers Weekly says "Monkey Man" ($24 in hardcover from Intrigue Press) is something like the seventh Bubba Mabry mystery. This was my first, so I'm sure I've missed the nuances (like a reference to the power of patronage in Albuquerque), but it's great fun nonetheless. Mabry has a Southern heritage but runs Bubba Mabry Investigations out of his home near the University of New Mexico. His office is, shall we say, a little unkempt, so he meets clients, like slip-and-fall attorney Marvin Pidgeon, somewhere else. Mabry favors restaurants with pastries.
It's not exactly the good life now that he had married Albuquerque Gazette reporter Felicia Quattlebaum, but better than his past existence. "For years," he tells readers, "I lived in one of the cheap neon-lit motels that dot East Central -- Old Route 66 -- before Felicia came along and made me act respectable." Felicia is a firebrand, always on the lookout for a good story, always prepared to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." And when Mabry becomes the center of attention after a very public murder in broad daylight, his wife chews him up one side and down the other for not giving her the scoop. She's one salty reporter.
Jeff Simmons, a bean counter at the Zoo In Albuquerque (ZIA), had arranged a meeting with Mabry at one of the Flying Squirrel eateries in town to tell the PI of some alleged monkey business. Animals at the zoo seemed to be dying off at a suspiciously high rate, but before Mabry could get the details someone in a monkey suit sauntered into the restaurant, walked over to Mabry's table, and shot Jeff Simmons dead. The monkey man gets away, leaving only the ape suit behind.
Mabry wants to wash his hands of the whole mess. Maybe let his friend, police Lt. Steve Romero, handle matters. Romero is a cop's cop, smart and tough, and why wouldn't he be named "Steve"? But Romero is constantly annoyed at Mabry, who just won't go home and let the cops do their work. Especially not after Mabry is retained by Simmons' fiance, Loretta Gonzales, Simmons' co-worker at the zoo, whose father is the founder of ArGon Foods (read "money"). She gives him a check for a couple of grand to get the investigation going. Mabry is hooked.
The reader will be, too. Brewer introduces a group of oddball zookeepers, like a curator of mammals named "Gibbons" and a zoo representative named Jim Johansen, "a handsome, tanned guy who decked himself out in safari garb. He regularly appeared on local television shows, talking up exhibits, bringing live parrots and snakes and baby crocodiles from the zoo, sometimes scaring the toupees right off the news anchors." Before he knows it, Mabry is knee-deep in monkey, uh, stuff, and he hates monkeys. There are twists and turns along the way, not least in the animal cages, and lots and lots of doorbell ringing, complication and confusion but in the end Bubba figures some things out in spite of himself.
And we readers wouldn't have it any other way.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to email@example.com. Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.