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Steal the Show: A Willis Gidney Mystery by Thomas Kaufman
Cover Artist: Photo: Tom Kochel
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312546328
Date: 05 July 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

PI Willis Gidney is forced to hire an expensive lawyer in order to adopt Sarah, a baby whose life he saved. Out of desperation, he allows film lobbyist Rush Gemelli to convince him to commit an unlawful act: breaking and entering into a warehouse in order to obtain evidence of a film pirating ring. Soon, members of a Vietnamese gang, the Dragons, are trying to kill Gidney. Also, everyone connected with a state-of-the-art encryption device to prevent film pirating becomes the target of an unknown assassin. To complicate matters, an evil caseworker for the D.C. Adoptive Services (DCAS), Florence Walters, conspires to prevent Gidney from adopting Sarah.

Thomas Kaufman's Steal the Show, is an extremely emotional, engrossing sequel to his debut novel, Drink the Tea. It has the witty, laugh-out-loud humor that is often found in a cozy; however, it also has the shocking, in-your-face violence of a bloody noir. Much of the success of Kaufman's crime series is due to its most unusual hero, Willis Gidney. He's a wisecracking smartass who endeavors to do the right thing. I particularly liked Steal the Show more than Drink the Tea because of Sarah, the baby whom Gidney is trying desperately to adopt; he's willing to risk his life and career in order to raise the money necessary for adopting her. Baby Sarah stole the novel; I couldn't put it down, so eager was I to learn her fate.

Gidney isn't the only unique character. Most all of the characters in Steal the Show are unique, bordering on quirky and bizarre, and some are absolutely devious and deadly. Returning characters are: the lesbian couple, Jan and Janet, with their daughter Emily; Lt. Emil Haggler, a friend of his late foster father; and his beautiful girlfriend, former model and computer expert, Lilly McClellan. Lilly and Gidney are the sole source of the novel's romantic element. Their rollercoaster ride relationship is due to his lack of commitment and finding himself the unwanted object of lust for a scheming Hollywood vixen, Sondra Stoddard.

Steal the Show can be read as a standalone novel. It doesn't ruin the mystery of its predecessor, Drink the Tea, with plot spoilers. A continuing, unresolved mystery does not exist. Gidney's life as a juvenile delinquent is quickly rehashed, garnering much sympathy from the reader. This includes his incarceration at the horrid, prison-like reformatory, Brockman, and his shuffling from one foster family to another until he finally lives with Shadrack Davies, Washington D.C.'s captain of police. Gidney was on the path to becoming a career criminal until Davies used tough love to put him on the straight and narrow.

Gidney is living the fantasy of many people who've been childless all their lives and wondered what they would do if they found a baby on their proverbial doorstep. The reader will soon learn that keeping a found baby is not as easy as a person hopes thanks to long forms and obstinate bureaucrats. Gidney is forced to pay huge sums of money to another bizarre character: an albino lawyer, Stayne Matthews, who possesses white hair, pink bunny eyes and a slick, crafty, albeit humorous, deceitfulness when handling DCAS.

I cannot state enough that Gidney is one of the most unique creations in the PI genre. His kindheartedness gets him into hilarious trouble. For example, he recommends Terry Price, ex-con and fellow child delinquent at Brockman, to perform magic at Emily's birthday party. My favorite scene is when Gidney stops Price from leaving the house before making all the valuables disappear. Because of his incarceration at Brockman, Gidney knows all kinds of characters, both lawmakers and lawbreakers, who help him during his investigations.

Have you ever bought a pirated DVD of a blockbuster film? Thomas Kaufman's latest mystery centers around film piracy and the high tech gadgets used to prevent it. Like drugs and prostitutes, pirated films are big business among gangs. In Steal the Show, a film will be transmitted within minutes to a theater on premiere night using a satellite; an encrypted code will be typed into the projector's keypad in order to download the film. This is much like downloading a free film from iTunes after typing in the promotional code. I've never bought a pirated film and, after reading Steal the Show, I have no intention of doing it in the future.

Fans of crime drama, I believe, will enjoy Steal the Show more than Drink the Tea. Yes, Steal the Show has plenty of the sarcastic humor, car chases, bloody shootouts, gangbangers, and beautiful women you find in most noteworthy crime dramas, but it also has a lot of heart. The emotional impact that it will have on readers will make it stand out among the competition. Throughout the novel, readers will be cheering for Gidney to stay alive and adopt baby Sarah. The novel also poses serious questions about what constitutes a fit parent. Readers will definitely experience some pleasant surprises when they read Steal the Show.

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