THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER: A DAMIEN DICKENS MYSTERY (Damien Dickens Mysteries Book 2)

by Phyllis Entis

Synopsis

When private detective Damien Dickens (Dick) finds the beaten body of the current Miss America, he also finds a valuable Russian coin. Dick is kidnapped on his way back from a consultation with a Russian history professor and his wife and partner, Millie, is left to search for Dick and unravel the mystery of the coin. Millie takes off for Florida with friend Bruno and a series of adventures, danger, and comedy ensue.

Theme of the Book

The White Russian Caper is a hardboiled PI mystery full of action, of character, and of adventure.

What I Liked About the Story

Dick and Millie Dickens are a fantastic pairing. Dick has all the characteristics of the hardboiled PI: he is cynical and wise-cracking, principled and yet sympathetic to the little guy, tough on the outside but with a warm and caring core. Millie is the ultra-competent yet gorgeous secretary/partner who is found usually co-starring with Humphrey Bogart in Sam Spade movies. She is practical and inventive yet can turn on the charm at a moment’s notice. These characters are not highly original. They are neither quirky Poirot/Miss Marple characters nor the psychologically troubled detectives that are found in many series. Instead, they are both standard PI and highly human characters that readers will quickly learn to love.

The secondary characters are, if not well-developed, perfect for their roles in The White Russian Caper. Bruno, former biker and bad boy, has become a steady presence and almost a partner. The two main police officers, Sgt. Sherlock and Lt. Holmes are antagonistic and supportive respectively. There is even a real estate developer who is self-centered, slightly shady, and demanding named Derek Turpin who certainly is an image of another Atlantic City developer with the same initials. Ms. Entis has obviously chosen names for her secondary characters with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.

Ms. Entis keeps the plot moving at a good pace. There are twists and turns enough and the ending is satisfying and yet provides a hint of the next Dickens case. The first-person narration in the sections concerning Dick keep the reader involved in the action.

The Damien Dickens series is set in Atlantic City during the presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) and the setting and atmosphere are current and nostalgic at the same time. Police departments are equipped with computers but there are no cell phones or internet. It was still possible to arrive at an airline check-in counter ten minutes before boarding and even to change the name on a ticket without problems. Casino gambling has just arrived in Atlantic City. The scenes are geographically detailed with Ms. Entis giving even the routes our heroes travel from both within Atlantic City and to other parts of the country.

And finally, though this is a small thing, Ms. Entis is one of the few authors I’ve read lately who knows how to use cum as in “office-cum-sitting room” as opposed to the horrible “office come sitting room” examples I have seen elsewhere.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

The only thing that bothered me a bit in the story was the final solution to one of the murders. Without giving away the plot, it is difficult to be specific, but the solution seemed to come from nowhere. This is not to say that the culprit was, until the end, a sympathetic character. He was not. But I found it a surprise and not in a good way. There simply were no hints or clues before the murderer was revealed.

Final Say

As I was reading, I kept thinking of Bogart and Bacall. They would have made a perfect Dick and Millie Dickens. Once I’d finished The White Russian Caper, I went to Amazon and downloaded all the other Dickens series novels I could find. This is a fine series and readers who appreciate a more hard boiled style of mystery will absolutely love it.

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