Crumley hits all the bulls-eyes, but why are we doing this? The characters are etched like diamonds, but I never figured out what or who was directing the dance. "Dancing Bear" is 228 pages long. On page 221, Milodragovitch says "Hell lady, I'm still not real sure what this was all about." Milo's comment made me feel marginally better. How could I be expected to know when the hero didn't?
Milo obtains a break from his security job to take a well paying case from a wealthy elderly lady who seems to want nothing more than to find out what her neighbors are up to. It quickly transpires the "neighbors" are up to deadly games. Milo's new allies are over-interested in his inherited 3,000 acres of prime land, and one is the type of environmentalist we all love to hate. She is the Aquarian kind who has her eyes so firmly fixed on the "big" picture that she neither notices nor cares about the devastation she is wreaking while straining for her goal. Another ally is out to prove no man can ever resist her charms; all she has to do is put her mind to it. And these are his friends! You ought to see the bad guys! Trouble is we never are clued in to exactly what the motivation is for anyone but Milo. He just plain gets sick and tired of everyone trying to knock him off. Very understandable.
"Dancing Bear" is an interesting read because of the well-drawn characters. Crumley zeros in so well on an overweight, hard-as-nails, prostitute; we understand perfectly why Milo finds her an irresistible Red Hot Mama---not an easy task. The pace is fast, but we don't know where we are going, and the master crime/criminal is about as amorphous as having a vague discontent with General Motors. It was not the follow-up I expected to the brilliant "The Wrong Case."