cover image Hastened to the Grave: The Gypsy Murder Investigation

Hastened to the Grave: The Gypsy Murder Investigation

Jack Olsen. St. Martin's Press, $24.95 (300pp) ISBN 978-0-312-18362-2

Author of 27 books (Salt of the Earth, etc.), Olsen has found a winning protagonist in Fay Faron, the straight-shooting, busty blonde proprietress of Rat Dog Dick, a down-and-out San Francisco detective agency comprised of Faron and her trusty mutt, Beans. Olsen's latest true-crime saga begins when Faron is hired by a lawyer friend to check out Danny Tene, who the lawyer suspects is bilking an elderly client out of her life savings. When the client turns up dead, Faron suspects murder. Her investigation leads her to the shady and mysterious world of the Tene Bimbo clan (the family Peter Maas chronicled in King of the Gypsies), and six more bodies, all elderly men, all seemingly seduced by Tene women as far back as 1984 and duped into giving the women their money and property. Apparently not content to wait for the natural demise of their aging charges, the Tenes allegedly dosed them with the heart medication digitalis, which acts as a slow, difficult-to-detect poison. Faron finally gets the police to act on the evidence she's uncovered; as of the writing of this book, the supposed perpetrator of the so-called Foxglove murderer (named for the plant that produces digitalis) was still to go to trial (Olsen concludes with the November 1997 indictments). As the trial promises to be fascinating in its own right, readers with an interest in the case would have been better served by a definitive account. Even so, Olsen does his usual professional job here, turning in a brisk, well-researched treatment of murders most foul. 8 pages of b&w photos, not seen by PW. Literary Guild, Mystery Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates. (May)