I was prepared to like Robert Bucchianeri’s Stray Cat Blues very much. I’m always on the lookout for a good Travis McGee clone, and this looked like it might be just the thing. But in the end, a couple problems turned me away.
Like Travis McGee, Max Plank, hero of this story, lives on a houseboat – in this case in San Francisco. His business model, though (unlike McGee’s “retirement in installments”), is never really explained. He’s just an unlicensed investigator who does whatever jobs he likes. (We’re also never given any hint what he looks like, except that he’s “big.” I find that lazy.) Instead of McGee’s large, genial friend Meyer, Plank has what most contemporary fictional detectives have – what I call a “psycho friend.” This friend is named Marsh, and he is an extremely wealthy lawyer and developer who also happens to be a master of the martial arts.
When Max gets a visit from a little girl named “Frankie,” who wants him to find her sister, he can’t refuse. The sister (cutely named “Johnnie”) had shadowy sources of income, and seems to have gotten on the wrong side of very dangerous people. Max’s investigations will lead him from ghetto dives to the heights of the San Francisco power structure. Johnnie was swimming in very perilous waters.
The writing was pretty good, and Max was an interesting – and sympathetic – character. Only two story elements put me off.
One, his friend Marsh is homosexual. I already follow one series with a steady homosexual character – Milo Sturgis in Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series. But Milo is a schlub and in a stable relationship. We don’t actually see him do much about his sexual orientation. In Stray Cat Blues, we observe Marsh actually putting the moves on a young man. And that creeped me out.
Also, I found Max Plank’s machismo kind of stereotyped and implausible. Once again, we see a detective sustain what is certainly a concussion, and he refuses treatment and is (apparently) all better the next day. I’m tired of that trope.
So, sadly, I decided not to follow up on the Max Plank series. Your mileage may vary. Considerd purely as a hard-boiled detective novel, it’s not bad at all.