The Woman Who Lowered the Boom

Image of The Woman Who Lowered the Boom (Stewart Hoag Mystery)
Release Date: 
February 13, 2024
Mysterious Press
Reviewed by: 

“Pick this one up for light entertainment, flawless narrative, and a charming throwback to the best of what a city crime novel once delivered.”

With this 15th humorous adventure of Stewart Hoag, both ghostwriter and sleuth, Hoagy’s life appears to be finally coming back together: It’s the spring of 1995, and he and his gifted basset hound Lulu have returned to living with starring actress Merilee Papp (after “I got writer’s block, snorted my career and marriage up my nose, and got booted back to my crummy unheated fifth-floor walk-up”). Most importantly, he’s spent the most recent years crafting a “great American novel” of his own, very different from his ghostwriting gigs of the past.

As this crime novel opens, Hoagy’s stunned by even better news: Norma Fives, editor in chief of the publisher Guilford House, forces him and Lulu into some pre-dawn Frisbee warmups in Central Park, then announces, “You nailed it, you bastard. . . . We’re going all in. It’s going to be our big Christmas literary novel. Major promotional campaign, national author tour, the works.”

Hours later, the editor phones Hoagy, who’s naturally terrified that she wants to take back all the good news. But in fact, she’s just received a death threat, and her detective boyfriend Romaine Very wants Hoagy on the spot, right now.

The book’s title comes from what Norma Fives recently did on behalf of her publishing house: discharged several low-performing authors from future book contracts. Hence, suspicion falls immediately on the resulting resentful writers. In Norma’s words, “I’ve had to lower the boom lately, by which I mean I mean I’ve ruined the lives of our authors. I’ve also made my assistant, Alissa, extremely unhappy. But I can’t imagine any of them would send me a death threat.”

Handler’s style verges on classic California noir, complete with fashion designer details of his characters’ attire. His dry sense of humor also extends to Lulu, the basset hound who accompanies Hoagy everywhere and whose breath reeks of cat food and anchovy snacks. Place that into the “city that never sleeps,” and it’s not surprising to find Hoagy describing event   with lines like “Gretchen let out a gasp, her eyes widening in shock. Almost immediately, tears began to spill out of them and run down her cheeks. I got up and offered her my linen handkerchief.”

The plot line too follows a classic pattern, as Hoagy and Very interview one disappointed author and potential criminal after another, occasionally sending Lulu on her short legs to sniff out details. It’s not surprising that his editor’s assistant makes a sexual offer to Hoagy, considering how handsome and irresistible he is (and about to roll in big book bucks, right?). But in fidelity to the subgenre, Hoagy unflappably turns down the opportunity, loyal to his adored and very sexy Merilee. So in most senses, there are few surprises in The Woman Who Lowered the Boom. But there are neat twists, clever red herrings, and an ending that almost turns cut-throat into cute as it unfolds.

Pick this one up for light entertainment, flawless narrative, and a charming throwback to the best of what a city crime novel once delivered.