Murder on Camac by Joseph R.G. DeMarco
When author Helmut Brandt is killed in an apparent mugging, P.I. Marco Fontana is hired by Brandt’s partner, who suspects this was premeditated murder.
Brandt’s work on the death of Pope John Paul I angered people in and out of the Church and made him more than a few enemies. His death happens soon after Brandt claims to have incontrovertible new evidence implicating people never before suspected.
Fontana doesn’t believe in coincidences and takes the case. A former Catholic himself, he knows that uncovering Brandt’s killer means more than exposing a thirty-year old plot to kill the Pope: it could also ruin the people named in the documents Brandt is supposed to have. Of course, if Brandt’s enemies have killed once over this information, they won’t hesitate to murder a P.I. who gets too close to the truth.
Entering the arcane world of the Catholic Church, Fontana encounters forces determined to keep him from getting to the truth. Though he manages to gain access to the upper levels of the Archdiocesan hierarchy, Fontana realizes that the web of power and deceit is every bit as intricate, tangled, and deadly as he imagined.
As the owner of StripGuyz, a troupe of male strippers, Fontana is no stranger to the seamier parts of the Philadelphia gayborhood. But in this case, he finds that there is an even murkier side to life in the city of Brotherly Love.
Murder on Camac offers a refreshing spin on the hard boiled PI theme in a well paced, well written mystery. A must read for fans of a well crafted whodunit, the characters come alive within the pages and although the book is packed from every angle, the deft writing keeps the story interesting and entertaining to the very end. If there are any qualms it’d be there are almost too many characters introduced and possibilities offered to fit within one novel. Marco Fontana is a PI I’d love to see more of in the future.
The plot is rather intricate and revolves around one main plot with several interconnecting side plots. Fontana is hired to look into the mugging death of a local well-known author. The dead man’s partner believes the author’s research into the Catholic Church got him killed and wants the truth known. While Fontana is investigating the murder, his second business ~ a group of high class strippers known as StripGuyz ~ is having its own problems from broken hearts to missing strippers. Together Fontana and his friends and associates try to find answers to his case while keeping StripGuyz running smoothly.
The two seemingly opposite businesses actually connect rather well in the storyline and this helps keep the action interesting and well paced. Whenever Fontana hits a roadblock in his investigation, there is always something going on at the local StripGuyz hang out, Bubbles, to demand Fontana’s attention. Additionally, the two elements seamlessly weave together in many places connecting the murder investigation to customers or even employees. Even the various side plots about missing strippers, broken hearts, and lost love are well crafted and interesting. Each of these plots ~ the murder investigation and the StripGuyz business ~ could have sustained its own book, but being woven together creates a rich, textured story that entices from start to finish.
There is a large cast of characters in the book and almost all are well developed. If anything there are almost too many people introduced and often the names and circumstances ran together at first. Eventually each character teased out their own identifying elements but some still were easily confused. A few could have been left out entirely without altering the story (such as Tony, Niko) but most are delightful and entertaining. From the broken English of Fontana’s secretary to his sometimes lover Luke and business manager Anton, Fontana’s unique world of friends, clients, and lovers is full of intriguing detail and wonderful antics. Fontana develops slightly within the span of the novel, mostly in the form of slowly dealing with his commitment phobia. It’s certainly not gone by the end of the novel, but there is more hope for a happy future than there was at the beginning. This keeps the character fresh with so much potential for future stories.
Another great aspect of the book is the setting of Philadelphia. Clearly a long time resident, the author is able to imbue the very feel and essence of the neighborhood, or gayborhood, into the novel. The details from streets to businesses to landmarks keep the reader very present and clearly in the city’s heartbeat. The taste and texture of the city is yet another layer that adds to the story as a whole and shows a reverence and care for the good and bad elements of the city. Too often mysteries are set in a random city but lack the bite of intimate knowledge, and not only does this particular novel offer that and more, but in such a way that the reader has visited the city themselves through reading.
Overall this is a wonderful mystery kept tight through solid prose and good writing. The even pace and witty dialogue draws readers in from the beginning and carries through the twists and turns of an intricate mystery and heart breaking discoveries. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who hopes Marco Fontana makes another appearance, g-string optional.
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