Painted Gun, The By Bradley Spinelli, 267 pgs.

The Painted Gun starts out as an overly traditional detective novel—an investigator on the skids sits smoking in his office in 1997 San Francisco, a client sends him an odd package, and he says, “It isn’t my birthday, and I don’t believe it’s the first of April,” and later he gets slapped around and the slapper says, “Don’t get smart with me. I don’t like smart guys,” and the investigator says, “What, they make you feel dumb?” and the slapper slaps him again.

The odd package is a portrait of the investigator that the investigator never sat for. The client wants him to find the artist. So is this a meta detective novel? Are we going to be examining the detective genre itself? Are the clichés there for a reason? Or is Spinelli amusing himself with what D.A. Powell calls “stinking dead usages of the past?”

The novel morphs into a conspiracy thriller. Fans of ‘70s films will perhaps recognize the root of the conspiracy from a movie whose title I’ll leave out, since I’m sure neither Spinelli nor his pre-publication readers have seen it (or read the book it was adapted from), and in Spinelli’s hands, the premise is arguably more plausible anyway (and if you don’t watch ‘70s films, it’s new to you).

And the mystery behind the portrait has a satisfying solution. But the novel’s early prose is an incongruous candy-floss foundation for what follows, including Latin American political history.

The book has a great minimalist moderne cover by Meghan Carey Kates. –Jim Woster (Akashic Books, akashicbooks.com)