Tim Wohlforth's first private eye novel, No Time To Mourn, is a good balance between action and investigation. There's even a little time for reflection, as when his protagonist laments the sometimes-sedentary nature of investigative work:
"Somehow sitting in front of a computer seemed like just the desk job I thought I could avoid by being a private eye. Yet, I found I was spending more time these days in front of a computer screen than wearing down the gum on my shoes."
But fortunately for action fans, Oakland-based P.I. Jim Wolf doesn't get much time for relaxation in his novel-length debut (after appearing in several published short stories).
Jim lives with a seven foot Burmese Python named Monty on a 37ft sloop called The Sea Wolf anchored at the bottom of Broadway, and works out of Big Emma's, a Victorian bar on Jack London Square a few blocks away.
Big Emma's is run by Jim's former lover, Lori Mazzetti, and her brother Joe. Jim's office is the back booth under the picture of the bar's namesake and it is here that he meets his client in No Time To Mourn.
Susan Henry is a drunken redhead so pale that Jim describes her "as if an artist had begun to colorize her just before she walked out of a frame in a 40's noir movie." It turns out Susan never drank before her husband was killed right before her eyes, and now she believes someone is following her. She describes him as a red-faced thug driving a red car and is pretty sure he followed her to the bar. She is positive it is the man who shot her husband.
Jim goes to check and has his first run-in of many to come with the killer they begin to call Red. But it only takes one meeting to turn his client into one more hard-boiled femme fatality. He laments her death, offering the obligatory musing on life and death, noting:
"Time warp. She had stepped out of another era. Not equipped to handle our times. Destroyed by forces she could not comprehend. Forces I had to identify. One more victim of evil. I knew why I was a private eye."
It's not smooth sailing for our man Jim though, as he has to contend with the good cop/bad cop duo of Nina Peterson and Richard "Ollie" Oliphant, his client's stepchildren, lesbian bikers and possibly even the mob, including the troublesome Red. Wolf bends some rules unraveling the tangles of inheritance, family and secrets buried in the past. He's comfortable with his ethics, and explains them succinctly:
"I deeply believed in the right to privacy. I didn't think the IRS, the FBI, and ATF, or the cops had the right to snoop on anyone. Keep Big Government out of our living rooms, bedrooms, trash and business files. So why did I earn my living digging out other people's secrets? I was a hypocrit."
Jim Wolf is not a cookie-cutter caricature of a hard-boiled private eye, and comes off as human and fallible. The supporting cast is well-realized and engaging and the action drives the plot without taking it over. An interesting mystery that doesn't fall victim to cutesy twists, but entertains right to the bittersweet end.
Tim Wohlforth has published non-fiction as well as crime fiction and his detective short fiction has appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He participates in the occasional short story panel at mystery conventions and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, The Private Eye Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Short Mystery Fiction Society, and the National Writers Union.