The second instalment of the Sam Russo murder mysteries - Good Dog, Bad Dog - starts off where the first book ended. There, in Shadow Roll, not only peopled are murdered, but a serious attempt is done to do Jane in, Sam's dog. She was stabbed many times by a knife, but miraculously survived. On page one of this new adventure Longfellow lets her hero Russo describe his dog: “Jane would always look like she’d tripped over the railing of the Central Park Zoo’s croc exhibit.” The tone of humoristic cynicism is set, or should that be cynical humour?
His friend with the Staten Island Police, Lino Morelli, calls for his aid when a corpse is washed ashore. It is obvious this person has been murdered. Although Russo is still recovering from his physical and emotional wounds of his first adventure, he decides to take on the assignment. The clothing of the victim - a huge man - leads Sam to the world of theatre.
The story - set in 1948 - runs similar as in the first instalment, where the PI and his yodelling dog Jane, more or less roll with the punches. The trail leads them to the 48th Street Theatre in New York. Here the play Harvey is being performed, which in reality premiered in that same theatre in 1944. The title character is an imaginary rabbit of enormous proportions, also called a Pooka. Harvey seems to be a figment of Elwood P. Dowd's imagination. In the play - which is hardly described in the book - people try to commit Elwood to a mental institution. There a mix-up takes place, where after there is great confusion about who is mad and who is sane. In the end it turns out that Harvey truly exists. He makes his appearance at the end of the play, although he doesn't speak.
Almost upon arriving at this theatre, Russo is confronted with a second murder. This victim played, just as the first poor fellow, the role of Harvey in the play, the Pooka. The readers get acquainted with the folks in this Broadway theatre in New York. Next to Jane a second dog plays a role of importance: Bluto. As Jane was originally the dog of one of the victims in the first book, so is Bluto the dog of the second victim in this mystery. Russo has some suspicions about who the killer might be, but he never says it out loud. The finale leads us to an unexpected climax. In the end the question remains unanswered whether Russo beforehand knew how events would turn out, or if he didn't have a clue.
Somehow, this whole solving of a murder case, doesn't seem to be what this book is really about. It is mainly a feast of language, humour, cynicism and of the world upside down. This last is for instance illustrated by Holly, one of Sam's neighbours on Staten Island. It is unclear whether Holly is a man or a woman. “I still hadn’t figured Holly. He could be a woman. She could be a man. (…) I didn’t worry about it at all. I liked Holly.” Even though the book is a page-turner and even though the reader can restrict his experience to nothing but the action and the mystery, this book is not just about the fun of it. The backgrounds of Sam's cynicism are bitter, which we come to know a little better with each instalment. The core of it lies somewhere in his orphaned childhood and with his experiences in the war. So there is more to it than meets the unsuspecting reader's eye.
I loved it. The third mystery is on its way to these reading experiences of mine and I know from a reliable source that Ki Longfellow is working very hard on a fourth adventure.
Way to go!