I haven't read many hard-boiled mysteries, but the "soft-boiled" mysteries, which is how "Stein, Stung" describes itself on its cover, are great. That includes "Stein, Stung", Sleeping Dog (Missing Mysteries), and Lonely Street: A Bubba Mabry P.I. Mystery (Bubba Mabry Mysteries).
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!