Trouble in Rooster Paradise

Written by T.W. Emory
Review by Ellen Keith

Gunnar Nilson, erstwhile PI in Seattle in the 1950s, finds himself recounting one of his cases to a sympathetic caregiver in 2003, when he’s laid up in an assisted living home with a broken leg. He warns her that his tale takes place in a time when “being correct politically had to do with how you cast your ballot and not how you spoke.”

In June 1950, Nilson is summoned to the scene of a murder. The female victim had his business card because he met her the night before at the movies and had given her a ride home when she told him she thought she was being followed. And indeed, driving her home, he shook a tail. Now she’s dead, and that would be the end of it, except that wealthy businessman Rikard Lundeen hires him to investigate. Christine Johanson, the victim and a saleswoman at Fascine Expressions, was the girlfriend of Lundeen’s godson. Lundeen wants the young man cleared, as he and Christine had argued before her murder.

Nilson’s investigation takes him into Christine’s swanky workplace, aka the rooster paradise of the title. Wealthy men shop there in hopes of making “friends.” Emory skillfully evokes this era of class distinctions and gender inequity. The murderer’s motive is inspired by both of these inequalities. The tale is peppered with recognizable 1950s characters—the world- weary waitress, the damaged World War II veteran, the thwarted career woman. I felt the framing device was less effective. I was happy to be plunged into Nilson’s tale in the 1950s, less happy to be pulled out of it. Emory doesn’t need to rely on it for Nilson’s next adventure.