The Bags of Tricks Affair by Bill Pronzini (Historical Crime/Mystery Novel, March 2018).
Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon are partners in a private detective agency based in San Francisco in the 1890s. They work well, together or apart, and their friendly banter masks the fact (that they’re only beginning to realize) that they love each other. They’ve also had numerous past adventures (published in five previous books) and (typically for PI/Mystery series) these previous events are sometimes to referred to it passing. This, their latest adventure finds them dealing with assorted con artists and the varied “bags of tricks” that each employ.
They work together on a central case, involving a beautiful but dangerous one-eyed female gambler, her violently protective brother and her often unfaithful husband. These three are operating together in a former mining boomtown in Nevada, when a very nervous casino owner calls in the investigators to determine if Lady One-Eye is an especially skilled card cheat or just extremely lucky. Our intrepid detectives go in undercover, much interesting action and violence ensue.
This case seems to be resolved (but don’t bet on it), so the duo split up to handle separate cases back home and in other California communities. Both of these lesser cases are good, entertaining puzzlers in their own right–and all involve other con artists of various sorts.
But then an unfinished element in the opening case comes roaring back, with Sabina (a key witness) kidnapped ahead of the trial and John frantically racing to save her. I won’t go into excessive detail, but will note that Sabina is most certainly NOT some helpless female victim, and she saves herself as much as her worried partner rescues her. All the bad guys and/or girls get what they deserve in the end, as expected. But the fun, as always, is in seeing how the investigators unravel the clever schemes of the evil ones–as well as the rich, ever-growing and evolving relationship between these interesting partners.
I should note that the first five books in this series were co-authored by the much-honored mystery veteran Pronzini and his wife, Marcia Muller. This is the first solo Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery for Pronzini (though of course he’s written scores of unrelated titles as well).