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The Eight of Swords    by David Skibbins order for
Eight of Swords
by David Skibbins
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

After reading The Eight of Swords, I wasn't at all surprised that it won the 2004 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Contest (though traditional is a misleading adjective as applied to this book). The mystery has a strong 60s flavor and a most unusual (across several dimensions) protagonist.

First of all, 55-year-old Warren Ritter (originally Richard Green and with a variety of well entrenched identities to choose from) was once a member of the Weather Underground, and has been on the run from the law and his previous associates for over thirty years (the exact reasons are undisclosed). His family has long believed him dead (that is, until his sister Tara spots him at his Tarot-reading gig on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue). Second, he's wealthy, due to inadvertently clever stock investments, but lives an austere lifestyle. Third, he's manic depressive, managing the condition with medication and visits to an engaging elderly psychiatrist named Rose. If that weren't enough to create a complicated life, Warren has just been informed (by Tara) that he's a father and soon to be a grandfather. He practices Aikido on a regular basis, and goes shooting with a cop friend - just as well, given all the new challenges the author is about to throw at him.

The mystery begins with Warren's tarot reading of a rich teen girl, named Heather Wellington, whose immediate future the cards paint as dark. She subsequently is kidnapped, and her mother Louise is murdered after Warren meets with her. Whodunit? There's a black boyfriend named Curtis, a controlling stepfather named Frank, and a hostile ex named Hal, whose gang is into heavy stuff. Both police and FBI are soon dangerously interested in Warren's life and past. Warren is gradually embroiled into an investigation, which he deploys via another unusual character, a wheelchair-bound, paranoid, 'batshit crazy' ex-army medic/computer hack, Sally, who has a rottweiler guard dog named Ripley. Sally puts Warren in touch with a PI named Max Valdez, whose agency does the legwork for him. As the investigation progresses, a shadowy relationship develops between Warren and Sally; is there any future in it?

As the action heats up, Warren's on the run again, but determined to find the murderer and save Heather. At the same time, the Tarot cards are getting 'pushier and pushier', and Warren realizes 'they don't care whether or not I believe in them.' Moved towards a major life decision, this aging Easy Rider finally decides it's time to 'grow up'. I enjoyed all aspects of The Eight of Swords very much, and hope for more of Skibbins' engaging 60s hero.

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