Picks and Pans Review: Timothy's Game

UPDATED 08/29/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/29/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Lawrence Sanders

Like the 1987 book, The Timothy Files, in which Sanders introduced Wall Street private detective Timothy Cone, this volume includes three novellas. It's just as well, since none of the tales would bear much more exposition or scrutiny. One case involves an ambitious young woman who runs her father's garbage-collecting business and scavenges insider-trading tidbits thrown away by a printing company that works for an investment banking firm. Another concerns industrial sabotage designed to drive down companies' stock. And a third involves two groups of Chinese gangsters fighting for turf while an elderly Chinese businessman copes with a philandering, gorgeous young wife and a philandering, bitter son. Cone puzzles out an ingenious kink or two in each case, sometimes with the unlikely help of such allies as FBI agent Johnnie Wong. Though Cone is fond of sardonic wit—Wong cautions him against quipping "50 million Chinese can't be Wong"—Sanders' sense of humor often seems archaic. So does his language. Chin Tung Lee's gorgeous wife, for instance, asks Cone, "You had eyes for me, didn't you?" Cone, who smokes incessantly, refers to his habit as lighting up "another coffin nail." When a bellhop whom he's grilling asks for a bigger bribe, Cone says, "You already got a Lincoln." The man replies, "It'll cost you a Hamilton. Look, you're making a nice couple of Washingtons on your job, aintcha? What am I—chopped liver?" Whether anyone ever talks like this in real life anymore—even private eyes who drink vodka out of jelly jars—these conversations rarely ring true. Cone also spends an inordinate amount of time lounging around his dingy loft in his underwear, talking to his cat. Most of the book's minimal diversion value comes from Sanders' quirky characters—the bonsai tree-worshipping, slightly dotty wife of a tycoon, for instance. There's something to be said too for a book that mixes incessant cribbed-from-'40s-novels slang with such words as "mono-syllabicity" and, after Cone stops for a fast food lunch, "eructing." For those not carrying a Funk & Wagnalls in their ankle holster, that means burping. (Putnam's, $18.95)

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