Skip Moore and James Lessor have started up their own detective agency in Don Bruns’s fifth Lessor and Moore mystery/thriller, Too Much Stuff. I have been a fan of the series from the very beginning, Stuff To Die For, and I’ve read every book since (except for the last one, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff). Skip is the first-person narrator throughout the series, and he’s been compared to an adult Tom Sawyer. Personally, I have likened them both to grown-up Hardy Boys, if more humorous and perhaps somewhat dimmer.
In Too Much Stuff, the name of the duo’s new agency is More or Less Investigations. Skip and James are contacted by Mary Trueblood, a woman given one of their business cards by Skip’s girlfriend, Emily, to locate and recover “ten crates of gold bullion.” Railroad magnate Henry Flagler had the ten crates loaded onto a baggage car of his train in the fateful year of 1935 by his finance director, Matthew Kliegel. After a hurricane blew through Key West with “two-hundred-mile-an-hour winds and an eighteen-foot tidal wave,” Flagler’s railroad was destroyed, five hundred people died, and the gold was lost forever. Or was it?
Mary Trueblood, Kriegel’s great-granddaughter, believes that her distant relative was able to rescue the gold and hide it somewhere, and that he left behind clues to its location. What she fails to tell Skip and James at the time is that she hired a different investigative team before approaching them; they “had disappeared and had not been heard from in over six months.” A secondary mission for Lessor and Moore becomes finding the two investigators who originally took the case. If they are still alive, they might have figured out further clues as to where the gold is. If Skip and James can locate them, they might be able to get closer to finding the gold.
Nineteen thirty-five was a long time ago, though, and the hurricane and decades have altered much of Key West’s landscape. Also, a mysterious man riding a black Harley starts following Skip and James, and tosses black paint on the back of their white truck. Then one half of the missing detective agency that Mary had hired shows up dead in a motel room, and James is blamed for killing him. Someone wants them off of the case, and will stop at nothing, even murder, to make sure that Skip and James fail.
Don Bruns conducted a lot of research for this novel, which is based upon the actual history of the Flagler railroad and the 1935 hurricane that tore through Key West. There really were ten crates of gold bars in a baggage car aboard the train, and it remains missing to this day. Bruns’s research brings welcome realism to the novel. Nature still has her ways of disturbing the best-laid plans of man, as the hurricane proved.
Fun-filled and page-turning, Too Much Stuff may be the best “Stuff” installment to date. Skip and James stumble upon a plot to transport illegal Cuban immigrants to Florida for $10,000 a head, and their investigation inadvertently shuts down that operation, putting them on a head-to-head course with criminals who don’t take kindly to having their business interfered with. Even with Skip’s more brainy girlfriend, Em, to help them when the going gets tough, Lessor and Moore meet with twists and turns that threaten the success of their investigation and their very lives.
Fans of humorous mystery/thrillers are sure to love the fifth “Stuff” novel—and if you’ve read the first books in the series, this one is a must-read.