Review: Parnell Hall’s ‘A Fool for a Client’

There is injustice, incompetence, and insults in A Fool for a Client, Parnell Hall’s latest comic novel featuring his put-upon P.I. Stanley Hastings, but at least none of them apply directly to him. He’s not even the fool in the title; that applies to his boss, civil attorney Richard Rosenberg, who is suspected of murder after his girlfriend is found dead. He was the last person to see her alive in her Fifth Avenue apartment near the time of her death. Only his feared reputation in civil trials made him dangerous to arrest unless the evidence was there.

a fool for a clientIn an old-school mystery, that would be when the besieged suspect turns to Stanley and urges him to ride out, a knight errant, and risk emotional and physical harm in his quest for the truth. But Hastings is no Philip Marlowe; the only assaults are committed by his wife, Alice, and they’re more of the ego-puncturing type. She could say, “You did the best you could,” and you could hear two thumps hit the floor. It’s that type of marriage.

But Hastings investigates anyway, because what else was he going to do? He attends a trial of financial officials caught defrauding customers because that’s where the victim worked, helping the prosecution. He questions the judge, some of the jurors and the attorneys involved, not because he had a hunch, but because he had absolutely nowhere else to go.

Hall’s mysteries are light on description and heavy on Hasting’s commentary on his life and everything that goes on around him. The pages practically turn themselves as he verbally spars with everyone (and why hasn’t Amazon picked this up as a pilot TV series?). He goes places he’s not meant to go, asks questions some people don’t want asked, and generally makes a nuisance of himself.

This make-it-up-as-you-go-along style may drive old-school fans away, but if you like a story that will go everywhere except where you expected, and can sidetrack into riffs on movie soundtracks, healthy cooking, and even self-publishing, “A Fool for a Client” will amuse. At least until the last paragraph, where a single image conveys the truth behind murder.