Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Moment of Untruth - Ed Lacy

Touie Moore returns in a sequel of sorts to Room to Swing. Seven years have passed since his debut and he is now married to Fran who he met at the boarding house in Bingsten, Ohio. As the story opens Touie learns his wife is pregnant, but he's not as excited as she is. In fact he's not at all happy about it though he doesn't reveal this to Fran. Shortly after getting the news of his impending fatherhood he calls Ted Bailey, his former private detective partner, to plead for a side job. He's already thinking he'll need additional income when Fran has to quit her job to take care of the baby.

Hoping for nothing more complicated than a guard job on the weekend he soon learns that Ted 's private detective agency is now an "industrial investigating" firm and that Kay Robbens, the PR TV executive from Room to Swing, is Ted's partner in the firm. As it happens they need an agent to take on a job in Mexico. The primary stockholder in a chemical company that Kay is wooing for her PR firm demands Ted's agency send down a private eye immediately. After some cajoling Kay and Ted get Touie to agree to take on the job. Touie sees it as an opportunity to escape his responsibility to his pregnant wife and a chance to distract himself from the major life changing event that he faces.

When Touie arrives in Mexico he learns that the "old bag" Kay was telling him about, Grace Lupe-Varon, is actually a very young and outspoken university professor. She wants Touie to prove that he husband was murdered. She is sure that a prominent matador is behind the death. Her investigative journalist husband had uncovered something about the bullfighter's career and was threatening to expose him. When the husband died of a snake bite she was convinced it had to be a murder. Snake bite? Where did the snake come from, Touie asks? From my collection she tells him. Mrs. Lupe-Varon it turns out is a herpetologist and she has a veritable menagerie of reptiles in her home for her extensive research on snake venom and their medicinal properties.

UK edition: T.V. Boardman (1965)
Complicating matters is the presence of Frank Smith, a mysterious American tourist who befriends Touie based solely on the fact that they are two black men in a foreign country. Smith claims to be a writer, Touie is suspicious. Nevertheless, the two strike up a friendship as often is the case when people of similar background met up by chance in a foreign country. Smith introduces Touie to the world of bullfighting allowing him to see firsthand the artistry of matador superstar "El Indio." But when Smith seems to be following Touie in his investigation of the Lupe-Varon murder the plot takes a sinister turn. Is Smith also a private detective interested in the death of the professor's husband? There is more to Smith than meets the eye as Touie will soon learn from the Mexican police.

Moment of Untruth (1964) as the title may suggest is a mystery about bullfighting. The moment of truth as bullfighting aficionados may know is the point at which the matador makes his kill. The title is one of the biggest clues to the ultimate mystery surrounding the murder of Grace's husband. There are plenty of scenes in the bullfighting arena, lots of background on the art of being a matador and specifically the unusual habits and rituals of "El Indio."

The mystery is much better constructed than Room to Swing and the exotic background makes for a gripping, fascinating read. Though Lacy apparently disliked the idea of a series character he does a fine job of incorporating Touie's life as husband and father-to-be into the detective story plot. And there is plenty of detection and action in this private eye novel. His final adventure in Mexico will force him to make decisions about what he really wants out of his life. That decision will fully explain why he never appeared in another book or story.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Ed Lacy's death. Coincidentally, there happens to be a rise in interest about him just as I have been posting reviews on his work. You can read a tribute to Lacy in Tablet, a Jewish online magazine. Click here for the article.

2 comments:

  1. Hey, John! Just wanted to say that I've really enjoyed your intriguing Ed Lacey reviews. I've not heard of Lacey or Touie Moore, but they sound like just my kind of stuff. Many thanks for spotlighting lesser-known titles like these.

    This second novel, with its Mexican setting and minutia about bullfighting, sounds especially interesting. It seems like Mexico as a setting can often bring out the best in crime writers. I like the Mexican sections in Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE very well, and two of my favorite Travis McGee novels are set there, A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD and DRESS HER IN INDIGO.

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    1. This was a very good detective novel for a private eye book, Jeff. Highly unusual with all the snake talk, the snake venom as a murder weapon, the Mexican and bullfighting background. Such a change of pace from the usual often formulaic private eye novel about missing persons, corrupt wealthy families, and dangerous broads putting the make on our hero. I highly recommend both books but I happened to like this one better for its very good mystery novel elements.

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