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Pretty Girl Gone, David Housewright, Leisure Fiction, $6.99.

Pretty Girl Gone by David Housewright

What is in the water in Minnesota? It has produced such varied and talented crime writers William Kent Krueger, Ellen Hart, Margaret Frazer, P.J. Tracy, K.J. Erickson, and new to me, David Housewright. His current main character (this is his second series), Rushmore "Mac" MacKenzie, is a P.I. with a true white knight calling. He has lots of money thanks to a reward for apprehending a criminal a few years back, and so he takes cases on just to be helpful. This is about the purest distillation of the P.I. "white knight" code I can think of, and it's very effective. Our book club recently read Tin City and we all enjoyed it tremendously, and I liked this third novel in the series even better. Mac has no sidekick but works alone, though he does have a best friend who's a cop. In this novel it's not his cop friend who's of interest, but a former girlfriend who is now Minnesota's first lady.

When Lindsey - the first lady - comes to him, she says that people are out to smear the good name of her husband and prevent him from running for the senate or even higher office. It seems there's some anonymous e-mail coming her way accusing the governor - a man Mackenzie really likes and admires - of a long ago murder. And so Mac, being the white knight that he is, goes back to the governor's home town of Victoria to see what he can find out. Like a typical small town, it takes Mac awhile to infiltrate - the usual response of closing ranks happens right off the bat, and Mac really has to work to get anywhere. His first break comes when he gets an interview with the basketball coach of the legendary "Victoria Seven" - the team from tiny Victoria, Minnesota, that went on to win the state championship. The shrine the old coach has in his house gives Mac a real insight into the town psyche.

As Mac uncovers more about the death of Elizabeth Rogers - a crime everyone in Victoria seems to tacitly agree that the governor committed - he uncovers more facts than came out at the time of her murder, and in true white knight fashion, he now truly wants to make whoever is responsible for the "pretty girl gone" of the title pay for his or her crime. He is also increasingly certain that his old friend the governor isn't the killer.

Along the way he becomes dangerously friendly with the local (female) sheriff, perhaps endangering his relationship with his girlfriend back in the cities, a real catch named Nina who is beautiful, can sing, and owns a jazz club / restaurant. As this story plays out with some smooth Spenser-style dialogue and a very well constructed narrative, the reader is drawn into the long ago happenings in tiny Victoria. Mac's quest becomes the reader's and that always makes for a strong read. If Robert B. Parker is now in the twilight of his career - and practically every P.I. writer working today owes a debt to Spenser - there are some wonderful new writers who are taking up where Parker is leaving off. Steve Hamilton, Robert Crais, Michael Koryta, Jonothan King, and Reed Farrell Coleman come to mind, but to come close to the snap of Parker's dialogue I think Robert Crais and David Housewright are the closest. Housewright, being a through and through midwesterner, may perhaps be more low key than Crais, but I think in this case, a slow and steady build will serve him well. Each book is a little better than the last, and there's no better sign of exciting writing to come than that.

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