The Bug in the Martini Olive: And Other True Cases from the Files of Hal Lipset, Private Eye

Patricia Holt, Author Little Brown and Company $21.95 (311p) ISBN 978-0-316-37161-2
Holt, book editor of the San Francisco Chronicle , once worked for Lipset, a colorful character who is that city's--and probably the country's--most famous private investigator. She is obviously fascinated by both the man and his life, and a good deal of that fascination is conveyed to the reader as she recounts some of his most celebrated cases, largely using his own words. Lipset began as an investigator in the U.S. Army, and has remarkable stories to tell about wartime criminality in the service which are probably worth a book of their own. Later he became a pioneer in electronic surveillance techniques (Coppola's movie The Conversation was partly a portrait of Lipset), while remaining busy with a variety of cases that range from standard divorce snooping through insurance fraud to catching a jewel thief in Europe. One of the odd things about Lipset is his amoral, apolitical approach to his work: according to him, guilt or innocence is the court's concern, not his; he will work for anyone who pays. All this comes across well in the long excerpts from interviews; but in the end one wishes he had written the book himself, because too much of Holt's linking narrative consists of rather obvious psychological observations and sometimes strained attempts to link Lipset's work with that of famous detectives of fiction. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1991
Release date: 09/01/1991
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