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No Time To Mourn

Author: Tim Wohlforth
Genre: Crime Fiction
Reviewed by Dale Stoyer

561Tim Wohlforth’s first P.I. novel is a good balance between action and investigation. Although his P.I. protagonist laments the sometimes sedentary nature of investigative work in this monologue:

Somehow sitting in front of a computer seemed like just the desk job I thought I could avoid by being a private eye. Yet, I found I was spending more time these days in front of a computer screen than wearing down the gum on my shoes.

He doesn’t get much time for relaxation in his novel length debut. Jim Wolf is Wohlforth’s Oakland based P.I. and the main character in several of his published short stories. He lives with a 7ft Burmese Python named Monty on a 37ft sloop called the Sea Wolf anchored at the bottom of Broadway, and he works out of Big Emma’s a few blocks away.

Big Emma’s is a Victorian bar on Jack London Square run by Jim Wolf’s ex-lover, Lori Mazzetti, and her brother Joe. Jim’s office is the back booth under the picture of the bar’s namesake and it is here that he meets his client in No Time To Mourn.

Susan Henry is a drunken redhead who is so pale he describes her as appearing “as if an artist had begun to colorize her just before she walked out of a frame in a 40’s noir movie.” It turns out Susan never drank before her husband was killed right before her eyes, and now she believes someone is following her. She describes him as a red-faced thug driving a red car and is pretty sure he followed her to the bar. She is positive it is the man who shot her husband.

Jim goes to check and has his first run-in with the killer they begin to call Red. He has a few more encounters with Red before the end of the case, but it only takes one meeting to turn his client into one more hardboiled femme fatality. He laments her death, noting:

Time warp. She had stepped out of another era. Not equipped to handle our times. Destroyed by forces she could not comprehend. Forces I had to identify. One more victim of evil. I knew why I was a private eye.

It’s not smooth sailing for our man Jim though, as he has to contend with the good cop/bad cop duo of Nina Peterson and Richard “Ollie” Oliphant, his client’s stepchildren, lesbian bikers and possibly even the mob, including the troublesome Red. Wolf bends some rules unraveling the tangles of inheritance, family and secrets buried in the past. He’s comfortable with his ethics, and explains them succinctly:

I deeply believed in the right to privacy. I didn’t think the IRS, the FBI, and ATF, or the cops had the right to snoop on anyone. Keep Big Government out of our living rooms, bedrooms, trash and business files. So why did I earn my living digging out other people’s secrets? I was a hypocrite.

Jim Wolf is not a cookie-cutter caricature of a hard-boiled private eye, and comes off as human and fallible. The supporting cast is well realized and engaging and the action drives the plot without taking it over. An interesting mystery that doesn’t fall victim to cutesy twists, but entertains while it makes you think.

Tim Wohlforth has published non-fiction as well as crime fiction and his detective short fiction has appeared in leading magazines, anthologies and online. He participates in the occasional short story panel at mystery conventions and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, The Private Eye Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Short Mystery Fiction Society, and the National Writers Union.

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June 13, 2004 in Crime Fiction | Permalink

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