Thursday, April 11, 2002

The Deadly Habit by Mike Manno

PublishAmerica, Inc., 1893162680, $17.95

A popular young nun is killed in an apparent car bombing just weeks before taking her final vows, and Detective Jerome "Stan" Stankowski is called to solve the case. Paired with the moody yet instinctive deputy Attorney General Parker Noble, Stan finds he is getting more than he bargained for in The Deadly Habit: a victim with no apparent enemies whose father, a tyrannical newspaper publisher, may or may not have been the actual target. That the father collected enemies the way some people collect baseball cards is no help to Stan in whittling down a list of names. When Buffy Coyle, an amorous young ex-reporter, wants to play detective herself (and eventually play "house" with Stan), the detective soon finds some things are more aggravating than solving a crime.

Manno's style in The Deadly Habit is to the point, much like a "Dragnet" police procedural. Stan, telling the story in first-person narrative, offers the reader little in the way of personal information, and that makes him all the more appealing. Viewing Parker Noble through his eyes is a fascinating exercise as well, and it is fun to see Stan continually grow agitated with Parker's quirky behavior: his constant phone calls to check on the well-being of his dog, his acquired taste for flavored coffee, and an appetite for food that would normally stop the heart of a healthy man -- equally deadly habits depending on one's point of view.

I must admit, though, I felt somewhat frustrated while reading, yet I was compelled to finish because I just had to know the killer's identity. Manno offered a number of reasonable motives and slyly planted the clues where I could not easily find them as I have in other mysteries. He had me literally guessing until the end; I suppose in a way the gruff Parker Noble got to me the way he did to Stan -- he just grows on you, and becomes quite a habit himself.

A recent e-mail from the author tells me that his contract with the publisher PublishAmerica has expired, and for now the remaining copies of The Deadly Habit are only available through his website. Manno is currently finishing a second installment of the Parker Noble mysteries, so here's hoping another publishers will pick up this habit.

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