Some people regard my father Harry as a two-bit shamus. They see him as a licensed peeper with a gun under his coat and the ethics of an alligator lizard. I've seen him that way myself. But he's got his principles. - D. B. Borton
Set in Houston in the 1960s, Bayou City Burning is a delightful mixture of hardboiled noir and Nancy Drew-esque caper, told alternatively from the point of view of Harry Lark, a private investigator, and his twelve year old daughter, Dizzy.
The story kicks off in classic noir fashion, with Harry being asked to tail some visitors from Washington, D.C., who have business in space - outer space - as the federal government is looking at Houston as a possible site for a NASA center. While Harry suspects the stranger of nefarious intent, he's "in hock to a certain orthodonist" for his son's braces, so he swallows the story.
While Harry is busy chasing the visitors around Houston, Dizzy, along with her two best friends, has set up a neighborhood lost and found business in their family garage. When a little girl comes to them with the case of a mysterious Barbie she's received, the girls begin digging into the (supposed) death of the girl's father in a train crash a few months before.
Harry and Dizzy's investigations begin to intersect as both are drawn into a series of civil rights protests happening in Houston at the same time. The book culminates with a multi-state train journey, as the girls, attired in sundresses, recount their travels in a diary while planning to trap a fraudster in the act.
This book was, in a word, charming. Both Harry and Dizzy are funny and clever narrators - Dizzy in particular, but the mixture of P.I. and tween is a compelling combination in Borton's hands.
It's not the most complex mystery - perhaps with too many threads to weave together to make any of them especially challenging - but the whole of the story ties together well. And the remarkably modern race views of every key character in the early 1960s South might be a little inaccurate in a book that otherwise rings true in its historical details, but that feels like a necessary anachronism. But these are small issues in an overall hugely enjoyable read.
Overall: Three and 1/2 Sherlocks, with a Nancy Drew bonus - and I'm looking forward to digging into Borton's back catalog for more gems like this one.
Note: I received an advance review copy through NetGalley of this novel.