A screwball detective uncovers a conspiracy made up by a syndicate of dentists who believe flossing your teeth is bad for you.
Private Investigator, Hugo Picoli, was hired by Farrah Mason to locate her missing husband, Jolly, before the cops do. Jolly’s wanted for questioning for his involvement in the kidnapping of Mill Moffett, a young man who instigated an automobile wreck that left Jolly’s mother, Lady, in intensive care. Jolly is affiliated with a syndicate of dentists whose mission involves educating the public to stop flossing their teeth. They have an oral irrigator they call the Dental Detailer they have big plans for and are looking to make a trade with Hugo. “You help us out in exchange for information on Jolly’s whereabouts.” Hugo accepts the syndicate’s offer while the city of Soma Arbor Springs faces tremendous times over the disappearance of Mill and social injustice that have caused protests to erupt in the streets.
While this light, quirky PI comedy is clever enough to have readers guessing until the very end, its ambitions at times chafe against its novella length. Several characters are introduced too quickly, with names that it’s easy to confuse (Farrah and Frida, Mill and Moss and Miller and Mason), which makes it difficult for readers to gain their bearings. The narrator’s consistently sardonic tone de-emphasizes important backstories, while the revelation of Hugo’s own past reads like an afterthought rather than a driving force in his narrative.
Still, DeMicoli’s dry, concise prose enables him to build a convincing contemporary world in just 120 pages––complete with its own unique pop culture references. DeMicoli’s crisp, repetitive syntax sets up his punchlines well and keeps the story moving. His prose and plot border on minimalist: every detail is essential (even if this isn’t initially evident). Simply put, this is no generic mystery. Fans of flawed, middle-aged detectives will love Hugo and his misadventures as he struggles to pick a side: pro-cop or pro-people.
Takeaway: An offbeat comic caper that delivers as a mystery.
Great for fans of: Carl Hiassen, Tim Dorsey, Donald Westlake.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: B-
A hapless detective clashes with violent drug dealers and renegade dentists in DeMicoli’s raucous adventure set in a town outside Oakland, California. Down-on-his-luck private eye Hugo Picoli arrives at his storefront office to find a potential client waiting for him: Farrah Mason, who says that her husband, Jolly, a prominent dentist, has disappeared. Recently, Jolly’s mother, Lady Mason, drove her Rolls-Royce into a pole after being frightened by the antics of skateboarding teenager Mill Moffett. According to Farrah, the last time anyone saw Jolly “was when he dragged that Mill kid outta his trailer, stuffed him in the trunk, and sped off to who-knows-where.” Farrah hands Hugo $10,000 in cash and asks him to track her spouse down, suggesting that he look for clues at the Crowns Social Club, a hangout for the upscale dentist crowd. Before Hugo sets off on his new assignment, DeMicoli pauses to fill in details about the PI’s less-than-illustrious two-year career with the Soma Arbor Spring police department. Later, at the clubhouse, Hugo has some preliminary misadventures which result in him receiving gold veneers, and he’s offered a few magic mushrooms—giving the author the opportunity to take readers on a frenzied psychedelic ride.