Award-winning sci-fi author Mike Resnick serves up another amiable mystery featuring Cincinnati gumshoe Eli Paxton, the sad-sack everyman last seen in The Dog in the Manger, reprinted last year but originally published back in 2001. I suspect this “new” one might date from the same era, because Eli hasn’t aged noticeably and the running gag about his aversion to technology seems even more forced—and even more unlikely—than ever. A middle-aged man working as a contemporary private investigator not owning (or even knowing how to use) a cellphone? Or a computer? That would be like Philip Marlowe riding a horse in The Big Sleep.
Still, if you can swallow that big gob of disbelief, that sense of deliberate anachronism might actually be part of the book’s charm. Because The Trojan Colt is all about delivering on expectations; it’s a deliberate love letter to the PI mid-list, an unapologetic comfort read. It’s telling that when Eli watches old movies on the late show in his hotel they’re not stone-cold, heart-wrenching classics of the genre, but pleasantly dependable old B-flicks featuring Mike Shayne and Boston Blackie. As Eli himself says at one point, “I’m just a detective. Being a hero is another union.”
There’s something reassuring in someone so defiantly old school. And while Eli may be your classic journeyman, soft-boiled shamus—a nice guy who asks questions, tries to get along with the cops, and holds a chair out for his date—he’s no sap. Leaving his troublesome dog Marlowe with an unsuspecting neighbor, Eli journeys to nearby Lexington, Kentucky, to guard Trojan, a prize racehorse whose stud services are about to be auctioned off. But when Tony, the yearling’s young groom, disappears, Eli’s quick to act. As he doggedly works the case, we get to see what Eli’s really made of, as well as receive an intriguing glimpse into the racing game and the astronomical amounts of money up for grabs when it comes to the breeding of future (potential) champions. When Eli discovers that Trojan’s previous groom also went missing, and that an out-of-town assassin has been spotted in the area, Eli himself becomes a target.
Along the way Resnick makes sure that many of the genre’s most beloved tropes are trotted out. The author doesn’t break any new ground, perhaps, but in the gallop to the fair-play finish line, it’s clear he doesn’t have to.