Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Hotel Dick -- Axel Brand

Axel Brand is the pen-name of a writer who's published "about sixty books," according to the brief statement in the back of The Hotel Dick. This is his first mystery novel, and J. Adam Bark, the hotel dick of the title, has been murdered. By Spencer Tracy. Or at least that's what the barber in whose chair Bark died, tells Sontagg, a police detective who investigates the murder. The setting of the book is Milwaukee in 1948, and the period details all ring true, from the casual mention of Canasta parties to the Philco radio.

Bark was an unpleasant man with a penchant for busting amorous couples in the hotel where he works, and the list of suspects is long. So is the list of movie stars, as they keep showing up in the story. Bark collects signed photos of them, and they all seem to have been his personal friends. Somehow Sontagg can't believe that.

Sontagg is a detective who wouldn't fit into today's world of hotshot crime-solvers, but his dogged approach gets the job done. It was great to read a book like this one, an effective throwback to another era that still feels fresh and new. I have a feeling that one thing about the solution will bother some readers, but maybe not.

The relationship between Sontagg and his wife, Lizbeth, is an important part of the book, and the ending offers the possibility of a sequel with a bigger part for her. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.


  1. Anonymous4:59 PM

    Great read. Too me back to my youth. Grew up in the 40's. Brought bac lots of memories.
    Hope he will do another one.

  2. Anonymous7:06 PM

    This book kept me guessing kept me reading and made me remember riding streetcars with my mother. As a retired cop in Indianapolis it combined my youth and my job. I can only hope that the author will provide us with another book. The suspects were many with lots of twists nd turns. The ending was a total supprise. Thank you Axel.. "OLD" Bill

  3. Anonymous1:36 PM

    I was curious about this because I spent some of my youth in Milwaukee and had never heard of a mystery set there. I think Brand nailed down the big, gray industrial town pretty well, but his hotel, the Lakeshore, is fictional.

    What's fascinating is that Brand takes some Hollywood period glamor and drops in right in the middle of a cold, bleak, melting-pot industrial city. the other thing is that the hero, Joe Sonntag, is a shrewd lunchbucket cop, doggedly interviewing people, which is how they were back then.

    I liked the story and hope the author writes some more. Milwaukee is a fascinating venue for a mystery.

  4. Anonymous6:06 PM

    A coincidence that Ed Gorman wrote Black River Falls and one of the victims in The Hotel Dick is from there? Hmmmmm.....

  5. Ed didn't write THE HOTEL DICK, though. Richard Wheeler did.

  6. Anonymous6:19 PM

    But Richard Wheeler has only written 40 books not sixty. An important clue.

  7. Anonymous7:43 PM

    Below the Library of Congress info, there is a little note about the book being "Published in 2008 in conjunction with Teckno Books and Ed Gorman".

  8. Ed's a consultant with Tekno Books.