Peter Bragg is an ex-military man and a former reporter. Upon leaving the newspaper business, he decides to use the skills he acquired as an investigative reporter to become a private investigator in San Francisco. He’s approached by an agent of a man named Armando Barker, a mobster who claims to now be retired. Someone has sent threatening messages to Barker and then backed up the messages by firing shots at him late one night as Barker was leaving a club that he owns. Barker wants Bragg to deal with the situation, and when Bragg asks him why he doesn’t just call the cops, Barker explains that he doesn’t relate well to the police.
Bragg takes the job and then Barker’s adversary ups the ante by threatening to go after Barker’s eleven-year-old step-daughter. The girl is safely away at a boarding school which allegedly has great security, but Barker is naturally worried nonetheless. Then the noose tightens even more when someone close to Barker is murdered.
Before “retiring,” Barker was a mob boss in a wide-open town called Sand Valley where gambling, women and various other recreational pursuits are widely and readily available. He claims he has no enemies left there, but Bragg concludes that the threat may well originate in Sand Valley and so moves his investigation in that direction. Once he arrives the action really heats up on a variety of fronts, leading to a surprising climax.
This is a hard-boiled novel of the old school, first published in 1981, and it launched a series of books featuring Peter Bragg. Like the other detectives who star in hard-boiled novels, Bragg can take a licking and keep on ticking. He’s bright, witty, and very attractive to the ladies, and it’s fun to ride along with him as he pokes around the underside of tacky casinos and whorehouses. This is a well-written and entertaining story, populated by the sorts of characters one would have expected to meet in a novel like this in 1981. The book holds up very well and has now been republished as an e-book and in a very nice trade paperback edition. It will appeal to a lot of readers who are fans of this genre.