AuthorMaria Grazia Swan


Although very possibly unaware of the correspondence, the author of Desert Moon has created principal characters that tread lightly in the foot (and paw) prints of Nick, Nora, and Asta Charles, whom Dashiell Hammett immortalized in his hugely successful Thin Man detective series. Nick and Nora appear as Larry Devin and his girl friend/fiancé Lella York, respectively, and the adorable dog Asta has morphed into an equally captivating cat named Flash. Nick and Larry are both retired detectives and their principal squeezes are civilians, who get drawn into their mates’ sleuthing, at first somewhat reluctantly but with increasing enthusiasm. Flash is generously provided with a cross-species playmate.

Ms. Swan tells her first-person, past tense story with considerable skill. Her prose style is smooth and fluid and is frequently punctuated with imaginative literary expression: For example, “[bathroom door] Closed. Just when my last hurried cup of coffee wanted to get out.” “[no sex in an] underground garage, too much echo.” “He nodded, pale as fading winter sunlight…” are but a few instances of the author’s ability to fashion her language in a manner that is fresh and creative. Particularly impressive was how Ms. Swan develops her heroine from somewhat of a blank into an edgy, utterly human character with familiar foibles ranging from the endearing to the irritating. And the Larry/Lella relationship unfolds with understated, but nevertheless insistent evidence of respect, love, and passion that so characterized the presentation of the Charles’.

Ms. Swan surrounds her basic trinity with an abundance of subsidiary characters of widely ranging relevance. There are lots of loose ends to be tied up before the novel’s final pages, and my reluctance to report on the process is not so much to avoid spoilers as to dodge embarrassment in not getting it right.

A major non-animal, non-vegetable character in Desert Moon is Maricopa County, Arizona, in which Phoenix is located. The author lavishes lots of ink describing the novel’s principal locale in all of its many moods from steamy to stormy.

Ms. Swan’s exceptional descriptive abilities do not always bleed into realistic dialogue. For example, which of the following versions seems most natural?

I wonder what else they have around here that we’ve not yet seen?”

I wonder what else they have around here we haven’t seen yet.”

If your vote is for the former, with its lapse in correct punctuation, I retract my reservation.

Thanked but not named are the book’s editors, who do a superb job in presenting a text that is virtually error-free. I was particularly impressed by the immaculate use of semi-colons to separate independent clauses in a single sentence. The slips are few and far between: “I watched them disappeared into the condo…” “He didn’t paid any attention to them…” “Don’t you want to look for you other shoe?”

This book is the third in a series of detective stories featuring Lella York. In Desert Moon, she’s a compelling narrator of a richly textured tale.