Dick Moonlight hasn’t had much business as a private investigator lately, so he’s been devoting his attention to his bar, Moonlight’s. That’s where he meets Peter Czech, a paraplegic who hires Moonlight to find his biological father. Czech, a nuclear engineer of Russian descent, claims that he was adopted at birth and his biological mother is dead.
But before he can get started on the case, Moonlight is dead, worked over by three thugs wearing President Obama masks, disguising their voices with synthesizers, in a downtown Albany alley. All that Moonlight can understand is that they want a “zippy box” and for Moonlight to stay away from Czech. Moonlight discovers that the stories about leaving your body and floating over the scene of your death are true: As he hovers between life and death in the hospital, he sees his girlfriend, Lola, at his bedside. But she is not alone. She is with a man Moonlight has never seen before and they appear to be much more than friends.
Moonlight rises from the dead and is determined to find out whether Lola has been unfaithful to him. He also wants to know how the Obama mask-wearing trio gain access to his hospital room to continue torturing him and insist he surrender the box that he has no recollection of ever receiving from Czech. He has no idea what it might contain or where it might be, but of course they refuse to believe him and appear determined to extract it from him regardless of whether he is dead — permanently — or alive.
Richard “Dick” Moonlight suffers from short-term memory loss, not merely because he has just suffered a concussion. He also has a portion of a bullet lodged in his skull which cannot be surgically removed. A few years ago, Moonlight tried to take his own life after learning that his wife had an affair. At the last moment, thoughts of his toddler son made him change his mind about dying, but his finger was already on the trigger. Not only does Moonlight have troubling remembering things, he could die at any moment should the bullet fragment shift. His inability to recall pertinent events and details often complicates his life, especially in his current predicament: Did Peter Czech give him a box and he simply doesn’t remember receiving it? Or could Czech have been in his hospital room, but he has completely forgotten the visit? Because of his emotional baggage, Moonlight is a deeply flawed but highly empathetic and likable character. Now he is faced with the prospect that his current girlfriend, Lola, has also entered into a dalliance with someone else. Can he endure another heartbreak, even if he manages to survive being pursuing by the Obama mask-wearing thugs who are intent upon killing him again, and again, and again . . .
Zandri has crafted another pulse-pounding adventure in which the action never slows, even as his protagonist and his best friend, Georgie, a former pathologist who is now suffering from melanoma, appear to find a safe place to rest and regroup. Nothing is as it seems as Zandri injects one plot twist after another into the mix, confounding his readers along with the memory-challenged Moonlight. As Moonlight and Georgie struggle to learn the whereabouts and contents of the mysterious box that the Russians are obsessed with, they also question Czech’s real identity and motives for hiring Moonlight. After all, death records are easy to locate and Czech’s biological father may have been reported dead years ago right there in Albany. So if Czech hired Moonlight for some other, more nefarious purpose, thus putting him in extreme danger, what might Czech really be after?
With Zandri’s work, his settings are an important character and Moonlight Rises is no exception. Albany, New York provides a gritty, mean backdrop as the story unfolds. Zandri notes that Albany “is full of crooked politicians and on-the-take cops, and all sorts of hard-boiled stories and images. Especially the neon covered windows of its many corner bars and saloons. It’s had a profound affect on me and my outlook. . . .Albany still maintains that authentic desperate noir atmosphere. In truth, it’s a tough place to live.” That is clearly illustrated by two memorable supporting characters, an Albany police officer and detective assigned to protect Moonlight, who makes a surprisingly tender emotional connection with the detective.
Most notably, Zandri brings virtually every character’s veracity and virtue into question. With the exception of the ever-loyal Georgie, no one is above suspicion and as Moonlight races to uncover the truth about Czech and the elusive box, readers will be guessing where loyalties lie right up to the very last page. This is the second installment in Zandri’s Moonlight series, but it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone selection. It will leave readers who have not read the first Moonlight novel ready to do so, however. Moonlight Rises is thoroughly engrossing, highly entertaining, and sprinkled with quirky humor. And it is worth the read to find out whether or not Moonlight truly rises and remains alive by the time his most recent escapade concludes.