Peter Duluth, onetime theatrical producer and current lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy, is on leave for the weekend, and he wants to spend that time behind closed doors with his fetching wife, Iris, an actress who has taken leave from the Hollywood studio where she’s shooting a movie. They’ve come to San Francisco for their rendezvous, but there’s a war on, don’t you know—which means that there’s a chronic shortage of hotel rooms in the fabled, fog-rimmed city. Efforts to secure one lead the couple toward a series of entanglements that involve a racy cousin of Iris’s who lives on Nob Hill, a disturbing sojourn in a Chinatown nightclub, a traveling circus, a giant puppet, and a very puzzling case of murder. Those elements, together with slick writing and clever plotting by Quentin, combine to produce a neat, amusing thriller, a screwball escapade of the kind that American culture turned out with surprising abundance during the dark days of depression and world war.
[ADDENDUM: I read this novel quite a few years ago, and to refresh my memory of its plot, I recently pulled out my vintage paperback copy of the book. (The image here shows the cover of that version.) As I skimmed through the musty, brown-edged pages of the old paperback, my thumb stopped almost randomly on an early passage in which Duluth—who narrates the story—sets the stage for the Arabian Nights–like tale that follows. What happens to him and Iris over that weekend couldn’t happen in just any place, he suggests:
There’s an elusive something about San Francisco that no other city has. Maybe it’s the flower stalls blossoming on every street corner. Maybe it’s the crazy gradients that made roller-coasters out of the streetcars. Or maybe it’s just the air. But people in San Francisco doing the most humdrum things look like people at the peak of some enthralling adventure.
And so, aptly enough, ends this sequence of notes on detective novels based in and around the City by the Bay. See previous entries in the series for reviews of titles by Coggins, Offord, Hall, Gordon, Pronzini, King, and Holmes. Earlier posts of mine that thematically belong in the series feature books by Greenleaf and Gores. A pair of other books that I’ve reviewed, one by Crumley and one by Macdonald, qualify loosely as Golden Gate mysteries as well.]