Saratoga Haunting

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

SARATOGA HAUNTING is the seventh Charlie Bradshaw mystery published by Stephen Dobyns since 1976. Formerly a police detective in Saratoga Springs, New York, Charlie is now a private investigator who barely makes a living and is increasingly uncomfortable with growing older.

When Grace Mulholland, a mousy employee at an insurance agency, disappeared in 1974 after embezzling $233,000, Charlie allowed conveniently available evidence to convince him that she had run away to Latin America. After her remains are found when the local poolroom is cleared away to make room for a new library, Charlie spends his own meager money to try to solve the case. Because new evidence shows that Grace had a lover/accomplice, Charlie looks into her relations with the men in her book and travel clubs. Complicating matters is the release of man Charlie sent to prison and threats against the detective’s life.

Dobyns, who has also written eight other novels and seven books of poetry, creates a vivid sense of life in this community making a painful transition from gambling mecca to respectable resort. The triumph of the novel is the well-developed portrait of the detective. At fifty-four, Charlie tries to reconcile himself to bifocals and wonders why he prefers to spend time alone at his lakefront cottage instead of settling down with girlfriend Janey Burris and her three daughters. The biggest mystery Charlie discovers in reading his notes from his original investigation is his unhappy, smugly judgmental younger self. Emphasis on the protagonist’s personal life slows down many contemporary detective novels, as with Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, but not here. Dobyns finds a perfect balance between his mystery plot and his hero’s efforts to understand himself.