Trade Secrets 

The fourth installment in Sinclair Browning's Southern Arizona-based mystery series is the best yet.

This is the fourth novel in Sinclair Browning's mystery series, which features part-time private eye Trade Ellis. And the best--Browning keeps getting better at inventing great situations characters to surround part-Apache, dirty-shirt cowgirl rancher Ellis.

Tucsonans will love it as much as its predecessors for its local color, ranchers and other outdoor types for its portrayal of that way of life, and hard-core mystery buffs will put it at the top of the heap for adventure and suspense.

The well-plotted story involves the murder of a local congressman's wife and one of those hokey military reformatory/boot-camps at which her son dies soon after in an "accident" trying to escape. The balance of the tale is the quest and pursuit by various elements of the two local teenage boys who went over the hill with him. Trade gets into the act on behalf of the grandmother of one of the missing boys and finds, as do we, that much (if not most) is not as it appears.

Which gets Trade into even more nasty scrapes and close calls than in her three prior adventures--The Last Song Dogs, The Sporting Club, and Rode Hard, Put Away Dead. For the first time she actually fires her piece in combat. Against the normal scumbag, a five-shot .38 Ladysmith works fine but if Trade continues to bump into a higher level of perp, as she does in this tale, we humbly suggest a little more firepower and a bigger magazine.

The action keeps moving, but there are several wonderful interludes involving the fictional town near Trade's ranch, which is obviously Browning's and our own Catalina. A pot-bellied pig encounter is priceless and is a great temporary relief to the tensions otherwise building.

While the number of pages in this book hasn't grown much since those in her previous stories, Crack Shot just seems as if there's more to it than Browning's prior efforts.

There are a couple of modest flaws--one of the villains will not seem plausible to those with knowledge or possession of a military background, and there's a directional glitch that Tucsonans can enjoy trying to spot now that we've announced it. But beyond those two minor complaints, this is the best Trade Ellis story yet. Anybody who loves a good contemporary Southwestern mystery yarn will love it--and look forward to the next one.

It is always good to watch a local author grow and succeed. Sinclair Browning is slowly accumulating a batch of awards and a following well beyond Tucson and the Southwest she writes about so well. You go, girl! And we love watching it.

More by Emil Franzi

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