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Two Dollar Bill by Stuart Woods

Publisher: Putnam ISBN 0-399-15251-2

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Well, one thing you can say about Stuart Woods, his books aren't boring. Predictable, maybe. Preposterous, possibly. but not boring.

Two Dollar Bill features Stone Barrington, Woods' lead series character. He's an ex-cop-turned-lawyer, and he's got a pretty sweet life. Cool pad, regular table at Elaine's in NYC, connections to a big law firm, while hanging his own shingle outside the afore-mentioned cool pad. Did we mention that he's a Babe Magnet? Like we said, a pretty cool life.

Into this life drops Billy Bob Barnstormer (yes, that's his name). A referral from the big firm, he's an outsized Texas hot shot, with personality to match. He comes to Stone under the auspices of needing a lawyer to help him navigate some murky transactional waters, but it doesn't take long to learn that he's up to a completely other thing, and it's no good.

Stone's life is, apparently, a series of amazing coincidences. He meets Tiffany Baldwin, newly appointed US Attorney for the city of New York (yeah, she's hot, too), who just happens to be investigating someone that turns out to be Billy Bob, albeit using another identity. They hang out a bit, then become one of Billy Bob's little stunts, in one of the funnier sequences of the book.

Stone also meets another woman, who just HAPPENS to be Billy Bob's wife in YET ANOTHER identity. This is a story line that could have easily been dumped, since the end result was fairly insignificant to the story, and detracts from it as yet another piled-on coincidence.

But these are minor quibbles, really. Stuart Woods is all about action, and Two Dollar Bill is full of it. He does a nice job of bringing in some the Barrington Regulars (Lance the CIA guy, Dino the ex-partner, and Arrington Calder, the ex-girlfriend), to help pull the switches.

Woods is well-versed in the slam-bang ending, this book being no exception. It's quite cinematic, really, and makes one wonder why some enterprising Hollywood story scout hasn't glommed onto this character's world.

Anyway, Two Dollar Bill is neither life-changing nor time-wasting. It has a snappy pace, and Stone Barrington is one cool dude.


The Marble Kite by David Daniel

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN:  0-312-32351-4

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Private investigator Alex Rasmussen is enjoying an autumn evening at the carnival with his new beau when screams from a nearby field lead to the discovery of the body of a young woman.  Lowell, Massachusetts police quickly arrest carnie Troy Pepper.  Troy and the victim had been lovers, but she’d also taken out a restraining order against him.  Carnival owner Pop Sonders hires Rasmussen’s friend Fred Meecham to represent Pepper; Meecham hires Rasmussen to investigate.

Not only is the evidence against Pepper damning, he’s had previous run-ins with the law, and he refuses to cooperate with Rasmussen or Meecham.  The investigation is further hindered by Rasmussen’s problematic relationship with the local police, of which he used to be a member.  Rasmussen also encounters gangsters, gangs, and possible police corruption, with the last problem resulting in Meecham’s resignation.  Alex refuses to give up, though, even as his personal safety is endangered, and Phoebe Kelly, his new girlfriend, decides she’d prefer a lover with a safer job.

This hard-boiled detective story includes some grisly descriptions which might be too graphic for some readers, but it is refreshing to find a private investigator with all the traditional vices.  A subplot involving the kinky fetishes of high-powered officials makes for some unexpected plot twists and the Lowell setting will be appealing to those with a liking for depressed industrial towns.