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The Strange Files of Fremont Jones
By Dianne Day

Doubleday 1995/Bantam paperback 1996

Reviewed by J. Ashley (2/99)

I always read series out of order, and having read and reviewed The Bohemian Murders, I thought I'd go back and start at the beginning. This book is the first in the Fremont Jones series and won the Macavity Award for best first novel.

The book introduces Fremont Jones, a young woman in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, who leaves behind her upper-class life in Boston to sell her typing services in the City by the Bay.

Soon after opening her business, Fremont has several interesting clients, Justin Cameron, a young, handsome lawyer; Edgar Allan Partridge, writer of strange, gothic tales; and a stately old Chinese man name Li Wong who wants an odd letter typed. Throw in Michael Archer, her boarding house neighbor, who, the landlady whispers, was once a spy.

Fremont becomes intrigued with Partridge's bizarre stories, and starts to investigate if the stories are true, only to turn up more mysteries. Then the Chinese gentleman is murdered, and Michael Archer tells her he was once the head of a powerful Tong. Then Fremont's office is burglarized and Li Wong's family takes her to their home and demands to know what happened to the letter. Fremont, falling in love with Justin in the middle of all this, also must contend with new and strange feelings.

Fremont is likeable, sensible, and determined, and makes this book worth reading. Dianne Day's writing, as in her other books, is fluid, and the inclusion of Fremont's typing projects lends another level of interest.

Strangely, I found this book to be a mixture of the refreshingly original and the annoyingly cliche. Why, oh why, when sleuths are handed A Vital Clue, in the form of a letter, diary, computer disk, what-have-you, does their insatiable curiosity suddenly disappear, and they refuse to read said letter and/or carelessly lose it? The Vital Clue that would have explained all had they but taken the time . . .

Also, as in The Bohemian Murders, I found the ending unsatisfactory. Fremont bases her conclusion on a chance (very slim chance) discovery and a leap of logic. We aren't led up to the solution; it's thrust upon us. Fortunately for Fremont, she guessed right (which is confirmed by the aforementioned Vital Clue). I was also not satisfied with her findings about Partridge's stories. That part seemed tacked on and unconnected with the beginning of the book.

However, I liked the story all the way up to the last few chapters! Dianne Day writes wonderful characters, and if a few were a bit stock, the others more than made up for it. The second novel in this series is Fire and Fog; the third, The Bohemian Murders; and the fourth, just out, Emperor Norton's Ghost.

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