Stateline is Dave Stanton's first Dan Reno mystery. Reno is a divorced, alcoholic, San Jose private investigator. When the action begins, Reno is in Stateline, Nevada, on Lake Tahoe, attending the wedding of a wealthy young executive. The guy is brutally murdered the night before the wedding, and his lumber tycoon father, who is unimpressed by the local cops, hires Reno to find the killer before the police, and agrees to a $100,000 fee if Reno does so.
As a PI of course, Reno does not have some of the advantages the cops have—forensic evidence, arrest records, and more. As cop tells Reno, "You know, I love you PIs. You're mostly drunk, one step up from a minimum-wage security guard, but you love to treat the police like we're a bunch of bumbling bureaucrats . . . ."
On the other hand, Reno's not restricted by official bureaucracy and a punctilious need to follow the law. As a result, Reno dives into the dark underbelly of American life with drugs, whores, and official corruption. One of the many appeals of the book is that while the action starts in Stateline, Reno travels to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Salina, Utah. Reno is hot on the trail of the murderer when we learn that not everyone wants the crime solved. In fact, someone wants Reno dead.
Stanton has a BA in journalism, and his writing is a lot of fun: "I was getting the impression that Osterlund was a son only a mother could love, and maybe even that was a stretch. I mentally ticked off what I knew about him: drug problems, reckless driving, falsified handicapped parking permit, sexually perverted, violent tendencies, and bankrupt. His life sounded like ten pounds of shit stuffed into a five-pound bag." And, "Osterlund's a prime suspect in Sylvester Bascom's murder. He's also got more problems than a math book. . . ."
Stanton can also sketch a character in a few vivid lines: "A guy in his twenties was on the phone in the small office, and he motioned for me to sit. His foot was up on the edge of the desk, and he was wearing a very hip and funky white satin V-neck shirt. There were two small silver hoop earrings in his right ear, a stud below his lip, and two more hoops in his left eyebrow."
My one reservation—and it may be a personal idiosyncrasy—is Stanton's shift from first person point-of-view to third person POV in two relatively small places. I know why he did so; he wanted to give some background to a character and there was no easy way for Reno to know about it (this is one of the problems with the first-person POV). But now I've read the book, I don't believe the background was necessary and I found the shift in POV jarring.
Nevertheless, Stateline is a noir romp. The puzzle is interesting and Reno is a resourceful and sympathetic, if flawed, character. Readers who enjoy hardboiled mysteries with the violence that comes with them will have a good time with this.