A couple years ago I read and reviewed The Big Show Stopper by Ken Dalton and I thoroughly enjoyed the zany detective tale. So I when I was asked to review The Tartan Shroud, the latest book in this series I immediately agreed. And I’m glad I did because I laughed just as much this time as I did when I read my first Pinky and the Bear novel. Not what you would expect to hear about a crime novel, eh?
Dalton’s detective stories are light hearted romps with snappy dialogue, lots of action and outrageous characters who often upend a few stereotypes as they bumble to their clients’ rescue.
Like the first Pinky and the Bear novel I read, the story is told mainly from two viewpoints: the sophisticated and unscrupulous lawyer, Pinky Delamont, and his bumbling but honest redneck private investigator, Bear Zabarte. The main characters are still outrageously, unselfconsciously not politically correct. Pinky hasn’t learned a thing that would improve his morals and Bear is no wiser than he ever was. The reader is privy to their thoughts and understands the self-seeking, and occasionally noble, motives behind their every action.
It’s Pinky’s gorgeous ex-wife, Willow, who draws them into this adventure. After the body of a teenage girl who disappeared more than a decade ago is discovered on a golf course in Pitlochry, Scotland, Willow’s Scottish cousin, Detective Inspector Fergus Murray, asks her to help him solve this old case.
Willow persuades Pinky to help her so he and Bear turn their full attention to the case. But once again Bear’s busty, image conscious girlfriend, Flo, the intelligent one of the pair, is the real force behind the investigation.
Pinky, Bear, Willow and Flo, and Bear and Flo’s foster child, Ettamae, head off to the ould country to lend a hand to Willow’s kin. They wade through dusty records and old files searching for clues to the killer’s identity and information about other possible victims until this past crime suddenly becomes a current case, all the pieces fall into place and they are racing to Blair Castle to save Ettamae from the killer. In the midst of all of this Pinky is trying to outwit a criminal he encountered during a past investigation who is now threatening him and tries to extort a large sum of money. Although there is a lot of action in this story, it’s not terribly fast paced. The plot unfolds steadily, bit by bit, with just enough information revealed on each page to keep the reader hooked. Although I wondered who the killer was and tried to piece the clues together, I also got caught up in other aspects of the characters’ lives and was drawn into these subplots which Dalton wove smoothly into the story.
Moving the story to Scotland for this book added a new dimension to the series. The main characters were out of their comfort zone and this led to a few misunderstandings and lots of laughs. The verbal, and occasional physical, sparring between the American and Scottish characters vividly revealed their differences and common ground. I enjoyed the author’s humorous treatment of the culture clash and his sometimes irreverent views, expressed by Pinky and Bear, about Scottish traditions and its revered institutions such as the Old Course at St Andrew’s Golf Course.
Like Dalton’s previous books, the humour is what makes this novel. It swings from amusing to absolutely farcical but fits perfectly into the story. Once again he has delivered crime fiction without too much grit and lots of laughs. It’s a dead guid read.