Axel Brand is the pen-name of a writer who's published "about sixty books," according to the brief statement in the back of The Hotel Dick. This is his first mystery novel, and J. Adam Bark, the hotel dick of the title, has been murdered. By Spencer Tracy. Or at least that's what the barber in whose chair Bark died, tells Sontagg, a police detective who investigates the murder. The setting of the book is Milwaukee in 1948, and the period details all ring true, from the casual mention of Canasta parties to the Philco radio.
Bark was an unpleasant man with a penchant for busting amorous couples in the hotel where he works, and the list of suspects is long. So is the list of movie stars, as they keep showing up in the story. Bark collects signed photos of them, and they all seem to have been his personal friends. Somehow Sontagg can't believe that.
Sontagg is a detective who wouldn't fit into today's world of hotshot crime-solvers, but his dogged approach gets the job done. It was great to read a book like this one, an effective throwback to another era that still feels fresh and new. I have a feeling that one thing about the solution will bother some readers, but maybe not.
The relationship between Sontagg and his wife, Lizbeth, is an important part of the book, and the ending offers the possibility of a sequel with a bigger part for her. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.