MANSLAUGHTER: A Stanley Hastings Mystery

Parnell Hall, Author . Carroll & Graf/Penzler $25 (278p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1127-7

In Hall's 15th outing to feature offbeat New York PI Stanley Hastings (after 2001's Cozy), a new client, Joe Balfour, admits he once served time for manslaughter after killing a man in a barroom brawl. Now, 25 years later, blackmailer Philip T. Grackle is threatening to make this embarrassing fact public. When Grackle is found with a carving knife in his heart, Balfour is arrested for murder. The plethora of suspects includes Balfour's daughter, who works in a topless bar, but the truth proves elusive, leading to a number of wacky complications and a vague ending. Though far from compelling, the story moves at a good clip, buoyed by snappy dialogue and its amusing, eccentric narrator. Hastings sizes up Balfour as "a simpleminded but amiable lout, who obviously killed only at the behest of undesirable companions who led him into evil against his will." He adds, "Of course I was making all that up. All I really knew about Balfour was that he was a impediment I had to circumvent before setting out on my actual job, chasing ambulances for a negligence lawyer." Whodunit fans with a taste for the unconventional will find this just what the doctor ordered. (Mar. 12)

FYI:Hall has been nominated for Edgar, Shamus and Lefty awards, and is the author of A Puzzle in a Pear Tree (Forecasts, Nov. 25) and other mysteries in his Puzzle Lady series.

Reviewed on: 01/27/2003
Release date: 02/01/2003
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