Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore
It’s 1947, in San Francisco, and Sammy “Two-Toes” Tiffin, bartender and sometime detective, and his group of regulars are still just trying to get by, when Sammy’s friend Eddie “Moo Shoes” Shu brings Sammy to a meeting with Eddie’s Uncle Ho. Uncle Ho has a job for Sammy; recover a black dragon statuette currently in the town of Locke, California, and give it to one of the criminal tongs, or they’ll kill Ho.
Sammy has some other things on his mind; namely, where his girlfriend Stilton, aka The Cheese, is going off to when she disappears night after night; figuring out who murdered the bouncer at a drag king club in North Beach (when Sammy and Stilton were there); figuring out why the new, puritanical head of the Vice Squad in SF is so fixated on lesbian clubs, and helping Eddie and his girlfriend open a driving school.
Razzmatazz shuffles though various points of view; Sammy’s in first person, Stilton’s in first person, couched in the language of a hard-boiled detective novel, and the Rain Dragon, a celestial being of great power who, it tells us, knows everything.
His books are laugh-out-loud funny while tackling serious topics; his characters are smart and wise-cracking, and act like doofuses more than half the time; he tackles serious issues (homophobia and misogyny in this one) and historical elements (the Delta valley town of Locke, an historic Chinese village; Sonoma State Hospital in Eldridge, the 1906 earthquake, Chinese “paper sons,” as a sampler from this book).
Sammy and his buds want to make a quick buck, they have big dreams, and they take on powerful people, like the head of Vice or a rich and corrupt lawyer searching for his missing daughter, or a Chinese-American crime syndicate.
At the end of the day, somehow, compassion and decency are what win out (okay, with a little help from Sammy’s extraterrestrial “moonman” friend from Noir).
As one of the nicknames in my summary demonstrates, Moore’s period-correct language can be disturbing. Read his content advisory and take it to heart.
If you want to laugh and learn about the institutionalized homophobia of mid-20th century California (San Francisco’s “masquerade law” mentioned in the book is real), and come away feeling a tiny bit uplifted, pick up Razzmatazz.