Stein, Stung Hardcover – Mar 17 2012
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"Sly humor abounds in Ackerman's second mystery, featuring aging L.A. hippie Harry Stein." --Publishers Weekly
"When we last saw L.A. private eye Harry Stein...he was tracking down stolen medical marijuana...in Stein, Stoned. Now he's chasing after...bees. Think of Harry as a nicer but equally harried and quick-witted version of Larry David, and you'll begin to get an idea of how just how wacky this comic crime series really is." --Booklist, February 2012
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There are two main threads to the plot: Harry is coerced into investigating the theft of a beekeeper's hives -- an odd mystery but one that Harry has some success with, despite being allergic to bee stings and therefore ill at ease. As he works he meets an odd assortment of characters and copes with bullies, criminals, allies and old friends. At the same time, back in Beverly Hills, pool repairs have led to the discovery of elephant bones in the backyard -- or a tusk, anyway, followed by more and more bones which, upon assembly, seem to resemble a human being.
Add to the mix corruption, teenage hormones, passion and trillions of bees, and you have a fun, "soft-boiled" mystery. I enjoyed this book very much. It was fast reading (258 pages -- frankly, I'm tired of 400 page books!) with an occasionally brilliant turn of phrase, and a magnificent extended conclusion -- one of the best I've read in a long time. This was funny, exciting, a blast.
I haven't read the first Harry Stein book but intend to now that I've so thoroughly enjoyed this one. Harry is a great character -- slower maybe, but also wiser than in his youth, mostly for the benefit of his daughter. But the other characters are also wonderful -- Harry's daughter Angie, her potential boyfriend Matthew, Harry's girlfriend Lila, and many others we meet as he travels around trying to solve this mystery -- well-written, interesting characters. I also enjoyed the bits about beekeeping. Altogether an intriguing and fun read with a terrific climax.
Harry seems to have the best of luck imagining liaisons with beautiful women, as with his boss from the insurance company, Millicent Pope-Lassiter, even though they never come to fruition. One can almost see Harry's licentious and lascivious mind at play in his thoughts about Millie. "She could suck ice cream out of both ends of the cone and catch the drippings out of mid air with a snap of her chameleon tongue."
Later on in the story while tailing some bad guys and he drops his transmission out of his over the hill Toyota Camry, the author said, "Trailing vehicles swerved to avoid the rolling hunk of aluminum that had dropped from his chassis and rolled end-over-end like a wildebeest giving birth on the run."
The author uses a minimum of four letter words but lets your mind form the descriptive thoughts, which makes it seem funnier to me. The whole story is pretty much told tongue in cheek with references back to the Great Gatsby and even Veronica Lake for those of an age to know who that femme fatale was. Think of Sam Spade mixed with Damon Runyon characters.
Harry has all the problems of husband with an attractive yet bulimic ex-wife, an over-sexed vivacious girlfriend, and a 16yo daughter, Angie, who outwardly hates him, while inwardly loving him and trying to protect him in her own adolescent way. Angie tries to convince Harry that her boyfriend Matthew is gay, so he won't worry what they are up to. You'll need a score card to keep up with all the twists and plot changes. The story is full of murders, crooked cops and politicians, greed, lust, betrayal, indiscretion, and plenty more all rolled up into a mildly humorous tale that kept my interest to the end.
Set in sunny Beverly Hills, STEIN STUNG is a collection of hilarious vignettes about elephant tusks, familial relationships, growing up, love, and--of course--murder, woven into an 80-year-old mystery. Its unlikely hero, Harry Stein, is a former hippie who is enjoying the benefits of the good life, living with a woman who adores him in her lavish home. Harry still clings to his hippie ideology and seems to have passed much of it on to his teenage daughter--much to her horror.
Author Hal Ackerman has a talent for inventing colorful, unique characters and inserting them into hilarious situations and embarrassing circumstances. There is enough deceit, violence, suspicion, and duplicity in STEIN STUNG to qualify it as "humor noir." Ackerman's use (and sometimes, abuse) of wordplay adds immensely to the enjoyment of the story.
We meet Harry Stein, aging hippie and former political gadabout, as he's enjoying the good life at his current girlfriend Lila's Beverly Hills pool. Harry occasionally does some PI work for reinsurance firm Lassiter & Frank and when he gets handed what initially looks like a stolen property case just up the coast, he's game for some quick cash to pay his bills. Harry does have a small problem however-he's freaked out by bees and the stolen property is four hives used in pollinating the large almond crop in the area.
In a secondary plot, bones start surfacing in Lila's swimming pool which is connected to the oil pool that feeds into the La Brea tar pits. Angie, Stein's teenage daughter, and Matt, Lila's college age stepson, try to literally put the pieces together and dig back through decades of California history to get details on what eventually pops out of the muck. These two plot lines eventually intersect in an odd manner and you just have to enjoy the ride.
Along the way you learn more about bees and colony collapse than you might have thought possible, endure some bad puns and marvel at the high school dweeb who made it better than just good. An entertaining read and one that made me want to add Ackerman's earlier Stein novel to my to-be-purchased list.
Like any good Southern California noire protagonist, P.I. Harry Stein is usually called by his last name. He is called "Harry" by only two formidable personages, his ex-wife and Millicent Pope-Lassiter, owner of a reinsurance company which occasionally hires him. And he is "Dad" to his exceptional daughter, Angie, who helps him be reminded that he isn't omnipotent or omniscient or omni-anything.
Pope-Lassiter hires Stein to interview a beekeeper, Karma Moonblossom, who claims his beehives have been stolen. Stein finds out they were indeed stolen, but, stranger still, Karma is not a Pope-Lassiter client. Back to Pope-Lassiter, who is only slightly less condescending than Lady Bracknell as she implies that more information is on a need-to-know basis, and Stein is definitely in the doesn't need camp. But then, in just one of the times that I got a touch of the giggles while reading this book, Pope-Lassiter goes on to lecture Stein on up-and-coming derivatives: "Mark my words, Harry. Derivatives will be the salvation of the global economic system." No year is given in the book, but since Stein borrows a "brand-new 2001 Lexus", we can laugh at her in omniscient hindsight!
Next, Pope-Lassiter sends him out to find out what happened to a load of bees when the semi-truck carrying them overturned. There is a theme building, and it's bees. Bees are big business when the California almond crop requires a trillion bees for pollination. Colony collapse is touched on, but most of the problems Stein uncovers have well understood and concrete reasons, such as avarice and retribution. Or let's go with "crazy".
A hallmark of writing in the Noire genre is description full of similes. Hal Ackerman puts a comedic spin on many of his. Such as when Stein's transmission drops out of his car on the freeway: "Trailing vehicles swerved to avoid the rolling hunk of aluminum that had dropped from his chassis and rolled end-over-end like a wildebeest giving birth on the run."
And I loved this one - a man describes what it looked like when the bees escaped from the jackknifed semi: "Bees flying around overhead like a million bad ideas."
"Stein, Stung" is a little crazy, a lot convoluted, with several side mysteries and always interesting characters. Just a lot of fun to read. Recommended!