Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wall of Glass: Walter Satterthwait

I discovered Walter Satterthwait at the Santa Barbara Planned Parenthood book sale in 2014. Or rather, my husband discovered him for me. He found a beautiful hardback copy of the second book in the Joshua Croft series, titled At Ease with Death. He then proceeded to find the next three books in the series, also in lovely hardback editions. And each one was only $1.00. So of course, I had to get them. And then I had to find the first book in the series so that I could read that one.

Joshua Croft is a Santa Fe private investigator working for the Mondragón Agency, owned by Rita Mondragón. The case in Wall of Glass centers on a valuable piece of jewelry which was stolen from the house of a wealthy Santa Fe family. The insurance company has already settled the claim, and Joshua is approached by Frank Biddle, who claims to know where the jewelry is. He plans to offer it to the insurance company for a finder's fee with Joshua as the middleman. Before they can come to an agreement, Biddle is killed. The Mondragón Agency then contracts to look into the whereabouts of the stolen necklace.

From the start we know that Joshua has a thing for Rita, who is involved with the investigation but is on the sidelines because she was crippled by a gunshot wound, and is in a wheelchair. This element does not overshadow the story but is always in the background.

The story is told in first person narration by Joshua. He is likable, intelligent, and cynical, a typical wise-cracking private eye. Rita does run the show, but Joshua makes his own decisions, sometimes putting himself in dangerous situations. The story is heavy on dialogue, and Satterthwait does a good job with it. The mystery plot is complex with many possible suspects and various people hiding the truth, but with Joshua telling the story, it moves along at a brisk pace and in a straightforward way.

These three paragraphs describing Joshua's meeting with Frank Biddle illustrate Satterthwait's style, which I found very readable:
He was short and muscular, and he moved across the office with a quick alert strut, a bantam swagger, like someone who might take offense at the word "Napoleon." He wore dusty Western boots, faded jeans, a tight-fitting denim shirt, and a gray Stetson with the sides of its brim curled up. His face was sun-reddened and his eyes had the prairie squint. This being Santa Fe, he could've been exactly what he looked like. A real live cowboy.
On the other hand, this being Santa Fe, he could've been a stockbroker.
He didn't introduce himself or offer his hand or take off his hat. Which probably eliminated stockbroker. He plopped down into the client's chair, stretched out his legs, and crossed them at the ankles. Lacing his fingers together atop his chest, he said, "I got what you call a hypothetical situation." Which probably eliminated cowboy.
One of the quirks of this writer (at least in this book) is that every character is introduced with a description of their clothing. Nothing at all wrong with that, I enjoyed it and I think when we meet people in real life we do "judge" them on their clothing. But the consistency here was a bit surprising... plus the fact that the author is male and he knows way more about clothes than I do. I probably would not have noticed it if I wasn't an avid reader of Clothes in Books and now often pay more attention to clothing descriptions in mysteries.

Here is a description of Joshua, preparing to attend an opening at a gallery:
For my outing that evening I selected a pair of clean Levis, Luchese lizardskin boots, a pale blue silk shirt, and my Adolfo blue blazer. Understated elegance. The sort of thing Hoot Gibson might wear to the Four Seasons.
If, like me, you don't know who Hoot Gibson is, per IMDB he was "a pioneering cowboy star of silent and early talking Westerns" and "one of the 1920s' most popular children's matinée heroes."

You can probably tell that I enjoyed my experience with the first book in the Joshua Croft Mystery series. The Southwestern locale is very well described, both in the town of Santa Fe and the surrounding countryside. At the time this book was published, the author was living in Santa Fe. This library blog lists the books in the Joshua Croft series and describes other books the author has written.

Thanks to my wonderful husband for finding this series of books for me; I will be reading the next book soon.

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Publisher:   University of New Mexico Press, 2002 
                  (orig. publ. 1987)
Length:       246 pages
Format:       Trade paperback
Series:        Joshua Croft, #1
Setting:       Santa Fe, New Mexico
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.


20 comments:

  1. Thanks Tracy - brand new author for me too :)

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    1. He has other series and some standalone books too, Sergio, and some of them sound very interesting.

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  2. I can't remember where I heard about Satterthwait, but I love this series. I'm just sorry there are so few of them. He also wrote a couple of other short series and some stand-alone books. He's still around, so maybe he'll add to the Joshua Croft series (please, Mr. Satterthwait?).

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    1. It would be nice if he continued this series, Joan. In an interview he said he was happy with the way the series stood as it is, but that was a while back, I think, and he said he might change his mind. Who knows?

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  3. This sounds like an interesting series, and an interesting story, Tracy. I really like the San Francisco setting, too. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I am glad to find about this series and finally try it, Margot.

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  4. Never heard of him but it's always a wonderful feeling to find a new and exciting writer/series. Will take a look at his books. Thanks for the review, Tracy. --Keishon

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    1. Discovering new authors is a great feeling, Keishon. I have found a few really good ones in the last year.

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  5. I like my PI books, but I'll pass on this author. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. I don't think I would recommend this series for you, but he did write other books that you might like, Col. When and if I get to them, I will let you know.

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  6. You just might have introduced me to Tony Hillerman's successor, Tracy! I'm overlooking his daughter, I know, but for some vague reason I've been putting off reading her novels.

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    1. I have never read anything by Hillerman, Mathew. I have a couple of his early books, but haven't tried them yet.

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  7. Thanks for the shoutout Tracy, and obviously I should be reading this book/series! I have read something by him - a book which featured famous, real people in a fictional plot, but can't track down which one it is.
    Just your short descriptions and extracts make me want to read this...
    One of the female crime writers (Sue Grafton?) always tells you how much people weigh - 'he was about 180 pounds, wearing jeans and boots' which always struck me as weird. Clothes yes - weight no! In my view.

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    1. Yes, this would be the perfect book for you. I think I know what series you are referring to. There are three books featuring a Pinkerton detective, Phil Beaumont, who runs into real life characters. Sounds very intriguing and I plan to look for that series too.

      Very funny about including everyone's weight. I will have to look out for that.

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  8. Sounds like my kind of writer, especially because of the detail to clothing. Us guys who are into clothing are REALLY into clothing.

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    1. I have never been into clothing myself, Patrick, but still I do notice what people wear. So it makes sense to note that element in a story.

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  9. I LOVED THESE BOOKS, Tracy! Read them many years ago. But unfortunately the series was short-lived and I don't think Satterthwaite wrote many. But whatever was out there I did read. I'm not fond of this author's other books (which obviously bring in the money or he would not have quit the Croft books) which are mainly historical mysteries featuring famous figures, i.e. Houdini, Oscar Wilde and the like. To me they just are too labored.

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    1. I have four more of these books, Yvette, and I think there is one more that I don't have. I sure hope I like the rest of them as well as this one. I do want to try his other series and standalone books, but I don't always like fiction with real life characters.

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    2. Fiction with 'real life' characters is a tricky thing to get right. Laurie R. King seems to be able to do it very well and there are a few other authors who (off the top of my head can't remember any of course) do it well, but not all that many.

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    3. I usually like real life characters if they are not that well known so I don't have a set image of them. I read a historical mystery recently with J. Edgar Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was handled well but the story would have been just as good, maybe better, without them.

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