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The Ancient Rain: A North Beach Mystery    by Dominic Stansberry order for
Ancient Rain
by Dominic Stansberry
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Dominic Stansberry's seventh novel, The Ancient Rain, features the third appearance of Dante Mancuso, a private investigator who grew up in an Italian neighborhood 'now inhabited by old men and women with long memories.' The top-notch novel takes its title from a poem by San Francisco poet Bob Kaufman, and the exciting storyline was 'inspired by events surrounding the infamous trial of William Harris, the 70s activist and Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) member who pled guilty to the shooting death of a Sacramento woman in 1975.'

When The Ancient Rain begins, private investigator Bill Owens is arrested by federal authorities in Berkeley on charges based on a thirty-year old unsolved crime: the killing of Eleanor Younger during the course of a bank robbery perpetrated by members of the SLA. When the arrested Owens has the opportunity to make his one phone call, he calls fellow San Francisco private investigator Dante Mancuso.

Mancuso is a 'sad-eyed ex-cop ... with his own badgered history' and an 'impossibly long nose' that is admired as 'a handsome monstrosity.' Reluctant to become involved in the Owens case, Mancuso nevertheless works tirelessly to uncover the truth about the thirty-year old crime and Owens' innocence (which ought to be easily established considering his air-tight alibi) or his guilt (which is enthusiastically and blindly endorsed by prosecutors who believe they can easily discredit Owens' defense). With Mancuso in Owens' corner, Owens feels he has almost nothing to worry about; after all, as people have said about Mancuso, 'once a notion got hold of him, he had a hard time letting go.'

Meanwhile, the daughter of Elaine Younger has hired her own private investigator, Guy Sorrentino, also an ex-cop who is tracking down people involved in the case in hopes of thoroughly obliterating the Owens alibi and ensuring the former SLA member's conviction. At the same time, Dante sets about the increasingly dangerous business of shadowing 'the prosecution case' and going 'back though the witness list, and the discovery material.'

In the real-life background that inspired the highly recommended novel, 'Harris was released from prison this past fall, after serving only part of his seven-year sentence'; in The Ancient Rain, Owens will have his day in court, Elaine Younger's daughter will do anything she can to exact her revenge, and Dante Mancuso will discover that virtually anyone - including someone he loves - runs the tragic risk of being horribly affected by the government's prosecution and those who would do almost anything to affect the outcome of the Owens case. When things begin heating up, the explosive action in The Ancient Rain becomes a 'searing portrait of the power of grief, guilt, and revenge on the human psyche' in a post-9/11 tension-filled environment where the public is 'full of fear' and 'the cops are crankier than ever.'

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