Pretty Ballerina

John Wessel, Author
John Wessel, Author Simon & Schuster $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-684-81464-3
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
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Despite quick wit and compelling action, PI hero Harding suffers the gentlest of sophomore slumps in the comparatively spare follow-up to Wessel's highly acclaimed This Far, No Further. Retired slasher/porn star Cassie Rayn is in Chicago for some convention action--her early films, which she made when she was a very illegal 16 (the title relates to one of them), fetch top dollar in the collector market. What few people know is that she's really Kalani Moon, the sole survivor of a headline-making bloodbath that occurred 20 years ago when her father murdered the rest of the family and then hanged himself. Two years before the murders, her brother Kim disappeared; now she's been getting oddly worded fliers that might be a message from him. When Harding agrees to track Kim down, he finds those fliers everywhere and, in time-honored PI style, attracts a lot of attention--from a trio of apartment-robbing punks; a mysterious Vietnamese with a cowboy-movie fixation; and a goon from the LA mob, all of whom are after Cassie for reasons of their own. On its own merits, this is a complex, fast-moving mystery told primarily through dialogue and interviews (a lot of interviews), but the depth and detail of Wessel's first Harding novel are nowhere to be found. As a result, this book reads like a draft still waiting for atmosphere and observation. While it proves that Wessel's no fluke, it will probably leave most readers wanting more, and not just for the right reasons. Author tour. (June)
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