Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Starfall - John Hegenberger

I thought SPYFALL, the first book in John Hegenberger’s series about private detective and reluctant secret agent Stan Wade, was well-written and a lot of fun. The sequel, STARFALL, is even better.

Stan takes on occasional jobs for Walt Disney, who in Hegenberger’s slightly alternate take on the 1950s has some sort of shadowy connection with the government. This time kindly old Uncle Walt wants Stan to investigate the mysterious death of a test pilot who’s in the running to become one of the Mercury Seven, America’s first group of astronauts. Stan’s probing of the case takes him to Edwards Air Force Base and also involves him with a bunch of “peacenik” protestors, as well as turning up some unexpected connections to notorious L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen and a fellow private investigator who’s gone missing.

Hegenberger clearly has a great time spinning a private eye yarn in the classic mold, with Stan getting hit on the head, taken for a ride, and running around for most of the book wearing a rakish eye patch due to an injury he suffers while battling some bad guys. At the same time there are some darker currents under the breezy, fast-moving surface as Stan struggles with self-doubts and his own history. STARFALL is well-plotted, makes good, accurate use of the era’s history, and is full of interesting characters, both fictional and historical. Most importantly, Stan Wade is a compelling, likable protagonist who has an equally likable circle of friends and associates. STARFALL is just great fun from start to finish, and it gets a high recommendation from me.

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