Robert S. Napier is better known to all of us as Cap’n Bob, of course, so I won’t pretend this is an unbiased review. But you can trust it anyway, I give you my word on that.
The Toyman is Jack Lorentz, toy dealer, former investigative journalist, and occasional unlicensed private eye. THE TOYMAN RIDES AGAIN is, as you might expect, the sequel to Napier’s previous novel LOVE, DEATH, AND THE TOYMAN, which was one of the best debut novels I’ve read in recent years. This one takes up a few weeks after that one leaves off, in the summer of 1983, an era that Napier paints quite well. Jack is hired to be the bodyguard of George Armstrong Custer, or rather, the local businessman who plays Custer in a troop of military reenactors. It seems that “Custer” has received some death threats and somebody has even taken a shot at him, so one of the other Seventh Cavalry reenactors hires Jack to come along with the troop to Montana, where they’re about to recreate the Battle of the Little Big Horn on the anniversary of that famous clash. As a cover while he’s protecting Custer, Jack pretends to be a reenactor himself and takes on the role of Mark Kellogg, a journalist who was with the real Custer and lost his life in the battle.
Well, it’ll come as no surprise to anybody that a murder does take place during the reenactment, but the nicely twisting plot has plenty of surprises after that. This is a really well put together mystery novel, with plenty of suspects and clues. Jack is a great character, and his wry narration has plenty of humor in it to go along with some nice action scenes and the occasional poignant moments of melancholy that every private eye novel needs. It all leads up to an unexpected but very satisfying ending.
As good as LOVE, DEATH, AND THE TOYMAN is, THE TOYMAN RIDES AGAIN is a significant step up. It’s one of the best novels of the year, and if you haven’t read it yet, I can’t recommend highly enough that you do so.