"Tribulations of the Shortcut Man" (Scribner), by p.g. sturges: At the start of p.g. sturges' follow-up to last year's "Shortcut Man," Dick Henry — the guy people call to fix things when legal recourse is either exhausted or out of the question — is putting the screws to a scam artist. It's merely an opening scene with little bearing on the primary story, but the extortionist periodically reappears as a running joke in this highly entertaining, if gruesome, sequel, "Tribulations of the Shortcut Man."
The plot this time around is more intricate, with dozens of players, including a coke-addled, washed-up former TV star, a celebrity judge, a couple of pole dancers and a man born without the ability to smell. The basic story is this: Henry's ex-girlfriend is dating a wealthy septuagenarian, but she suspects something is wrong when her elderly paramour fails to return her calls. As a favor, Henry sneaks into the man's home to discover that he is, of course, dead, and under suspicious circumstances.
Henry's investigations bring him in contact with several despicable characters whose cold brutality would make this a difficult book to get through if not for Henry's own sentimentality as he remembers falling in love with a former flame, and his interactions with his young daughter. Fear not: These tender insights into our morally ambiguous protagonist do not signify a change of outlook, as Henry remains dedicated to his own personal brand of justice.
That the narrative is not a true first-person but alternates between Henry's perspective and that of the other principal characters may bother some die-hard noir fans, particularly as the whodunit is never a mystery, instead plumbing the depths of dark comedy. But sturges' writing is seamless, his humor as twisted as his plotting, and frankly I couldn't stop smiling throughout the entire novel.