Mercedes Lambert,
(Stark House Noir, 2008)

In 1991, Douglas Anne Munson, writing under the name Mercedes Lambert, published Dogtown, a hard-boiled mystery featuring L.A. attorney Whitney Logan, a bottom-rung lawyer scraping by on cases she picks up in court and barely making the rent. When a tall blonde who calls herself Monica Fulbright walks into her office and offers her a $1,000 retainer to locate her missing housekeeper, Logan takes the case. Lupe Ramos, a Chicana prostitute who does business on the street below Logan's office, becomes her helper on the case. And as they investigate, they discover that, of course, Monica Fulbright is not who or what she appears to be and a simple missing-person case explodes into murder, double-crosses, Latin politics and drug smuggling.

In 1996, Lambert followed up with Soultown, in which Logan and Ramos investigate a shooting and robbery in L.A.'s Korean community. Again, a simple case explodes into complications, double-crosses and deceptions. Before the crime is solved, Logan's life has been in danger many times, her friendship with Ramos is put to some severe tests and a series of family secrets is revealed.

These two novels, long out of print, have been brought back by Stark House, and we can only hope they'll find the wide readership they deserve. Lambert knows L.A. intimately, and the city emerges as another character in her novels. She creates a milieu in which the escalating and mad actions of some of the characters make perfect sense, and by the time you finish one of her books, you find you've been given insights into the human condition and have learned something about how environment shapes character and how people sometimes fail to live up to the best that is in them and sometimes discover resources in themselves they did not know they had.

Lambert might have been working in the mystery field but she was definitely interested in exploring depths and nuances of character.

What should have been a long and successful career was cut off by cancer, which led to her death in 2003. These two books, along with a posthumously published third Whitney Logan mystery, Ghosttown, are virtually her entire legacy. It is great to see them back in print.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

9 August 2008

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