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Hot Stuff by Don Bruns

Hot Stuff by Don Bruns (Oceanview Publishing, 2012) is the sixth in the Stuff series featuring Skip Moore and James Lessor who’ve managed to aspire from being deadbeat losers with a used box truck into officially licensed private investigators with a used box truck. Except, because they find it hard to do anything properly unless you count finding body parts when they haul stuff in their truck, they still work for a travelling carnival show or go treasure hunting when stuck for something to do by way of earning a living. This time, Skip has found his true vocation, scraping the food off plates and feeding the dishwasher in a high-end French restaurant while James actually gets the chance to prove that not every minute of his four years at university was wasted. He’s earning biggish bucks as a sous-chef. They’re working undercover to find out who murdered the sous-chef James is replacing. And, within minutes, they remind themselves how hard it is to ask co-workers questions without exciting suspicion. And by the end of the first day, there’s what may have been a death threat to James — for once not a response to his laid-back charm.

The fun thing about this pair is the balance between competence and incompetence. Neither is really interested in the material side of life although, in his more mellow moments, James does admit it would be good to become rich. It’s just the lack of work ethic that holds him back. Skip finds his mind engaged and, with a bet involving a large quantity of beer riding on the outcome of their investigation, he’s really getting into the dishwashing gig like his life depended on it — well, perhaps his life does depend on it if the murderer realises he’s not a real dishwasher but a PI working undercover. Of course, work of this kind always involves perks. In this case, free swimming lessons have been included together with instruction videos on the uses and abuses of paperclips.

Don Bruns and Dick Smothers celebrating stuff

From this, you’ll understand Hot Stuff does something simple rather well. It entertains. Any author will tell you writing anything intended to be even vaguely humorous is a minefield. Fortunately, Don Bruns is not trying to write a comic novel as such, but the intention is to generate a smile or two on the way. This flows naturally from the set-up. Neither Skip nor James matches the conventional expectations we readers have about PIs. Instead of tough guys who can duke it out with the villains and generate those laconic one-liners we always wish we’d thought off, this pair is rather wimpy and prone to foot-in-mouthisms of rare quality. Indeed, if there’s any explanation for their success, it’s that no-one meeting them would ever take them for investigators and would most likely underestimate them. The only element that, perhaps, does emerge from this book to their credit is that James is not only a lot more conscientious than you might expect as a sous-chef, he’s also quite good at it. While, for reasons you’ll understand when you read the book, he can’t go back to work at the restaurant where the murder is committed, this experience should encourage him to look for a better position in a good kitchen. That’s assuming, of course, that they don’t get some decent paying work as PIs. Well, perhaps that’s not so much an assumption as a strong probability. I mean, who in their right minds would willingly employ this pair as private investigators?

So putting all this together, Hot Stuff is a good puzzle and our battered truck owners do get to the right answer, albeit by a somewhat circuitous route. I’m not wholly convinced by the way the book ends. It’s a bit too melodramatic for my taste. But it does have the virtue of neatness and leaves everything set for the series to continue. Something I’ll look forward to reading.

For a review of the next in the series, see Reel Stuff.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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