cover image Million-Dollar Tattoo

Million-Dollar Tattoo

Earl Emerson. Ballantine Books, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-345-40066-6

Seattle PI Thomas Black, last seen in The Vanishing Smile, brings an element of reason to a bizarre case when his old chum and fellow PI, Elmer ``Snake'' Slezak, makes some outlandish claims about the dead woman in his bed: he didn't kill her, she used to have a tattoo on her breast and she was one of many cloned breeders from another galaxy. Although Slezak persists in his story long after it goes stale, unimaginative police charge him with the murder, releasing him only when an anonymous benefactor posts full bail in cash. Black, who is ``not entirely sure Snake did it,'' starts off turning up more coincidences than answers. The same corporation dangling attractive--and distracting--work offers in front of Black is also Slezak's biggest client. The ex-wife of a homeless man Slezak recently befriended says the dead woman helped break up her marriage--but she doesn't know who she is. One person after another seems to have some connection with the wealthy and elusive Judson Bonneville, and Black encounters a woman who looks so much like the dead one that she could be a clone. Although events (including additional deaths) surrounding the murder are interesting, Emerson coarsens the picture by applying its peculiar elements with a trowel instead of an artist's brush, and with attempts at wit that are more crude than they are sharp. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Oct.)