Jack Lorentz, the Tacoma dealer in collectable toys who was the protagonist of Love, Death, and the Toyman, returns, this time riding with reenactors portraying Custer as the troops who accompanied him at his last stand. Lorentz himself is in a checked suit and derby hat, playing a newspaperman from the East.
It’s the summer of 1983, a few weeks after the end of the first novel, and Lorentz is involved because there have been death threats and even a warning shot directed against the man obsessed with reenacting Custer, but it’s not clear if they’re meant seriously or only to intimidate. When the reenactors actually start reenacting, they get into confrontations with Native American protestors unhappy with what they see as glorification of Custer and crimes against their ancestors. One of the confrontations turns violent, someone is killed, and it seems pretty obvious by whom. The local cops are happy to close the case, but of course Lorentz isn’t sure they have the right man.
I thought the previous book was quite decent journeyman mystery/suspense, and this one is even better, though it’s not without its flaws. My biggest complaint is that I just couldn’t buy the way Lorentz gets involved. A representative of the reenactors group hires Jack to investigate the threats and act as Custer’s undercover bodyguard. Granted, Jack is a former investigative journalist and a Vietnam veteran who recently solved a mystery and survived a deadly confrontation with the bad guy, but Jack has no real qualifications as a bodyguard, and since he’s not licensed as private investigator his taking the job may well be illegal.
(It occurs to me that the problem could have been solved by having an editor Jack knows contact him to write a first-person piece on the events of the last book, which Jack declines, but he ends up with an assignment to write about the Custer reenactors with whom he’s become acquainted by selling various Western-related items to some of them. The reenactors go along with Jack’s proposal to join them in the role of a journalist, both real and reenacted. At that point it becomes a lot more believable for one of them to ask Jack to investigate the death threats “Custer” had been getting.)
But that and a few more minor quibbles aside, it’s a pretty decent mystery of the hardboiled private-eye school, even if the protagonist isn’t technically a private eye. I wouldn’t quite give it the four stars out of five it has on Amazon, but I do recommend it.