THE BURNING WOMAN
Formerly known as. . .
THE ADVENTURES OF PETER B. BRUCK, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR
By Robert L. Iles

Avid Press
June 2000

Reviewed by Tom Kreitzberg

Peter B. Bruck is trouble for the contemporary mystery scene. At a time when the genre is exploring whole new dimensions of social commentary and expression, along comes a 1950's era New York P.I., with all the broads, bullets, and booze that implies. And, as if unearthing all those cliches we thought were finally buried wasn't trouble enough, it turns out that reading them again is a lot of fun.

In the fourteen stories in this collection, Robert L. Iles seems to enjoy playing with the conventions of tough guy P.I. fiction without ever sliding into mockery. As a character, Peter Bruck is as artificial as a stripper's smile, but that's part of the pleasure. Bruck's life is angst-free, his concerns simple: paying the rent, catching the bad guy, staying alive. And if the gorgeous client gives him a bonus, so much the better.

The mysteries Bruck solves are competently, if not always cunningly, constructed. (Hint: Beware gorgeous clients.) Although the quality of the stories varies -- "A Little Fiction" seems to be told all in one breath, while the much longer "The End of It" is complex enough to successfully mix political intrigue, crooked cops, grinding detective work, and even a touch of poignancy -- Bruck's narrative voice and Iles's criminous New York give the book a sense of unity that too many collections lack.

Though a competent P.I., Bruck is still capable of making mistakes, so he doesn't take himself too seriously. Neither does his creator. So while Bruck may be a throwback, his THE BURNING WOMAN is a keeper.


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