What would the Hardy Boys be like if their career paths hadnít gone the way theyíd planned, they drove around in a white panel truck, lived together in a derelict part of town and drank too much beer? Maybe they would have turned out something like Don Brunsís likably humorous duo of Skip Moore and James Lessor, who always seem to get themselves into jams and somehow miraculously get out of them again, alive - at least most of the time, except in Brunsís latest novel to feature Lessor and Moore, Stuff to Spy For, in which Skip Moore dies.
Yes, I said it - he dies. Iím not giving away any spoilers, though
- Skip, the first-person narrator, reveals the fact of his death in the Prologue:
Iíd always heard that when you died your entire life passes before your eyes.
You see all the people you knew, all of your relatives, alive and dead. In a flash
you see your friends from high school and college, and Iím pretty sure that would
include all of your girlfriends. My mother once told me that you would see all
the good things and bad things that youíd done with your life, and she warned me
that Iíd better have a lot of good things to look at.
Death is not always the final end of life, as anyone who has ever died and been revived can tell you - as is ultimately the case with Skip, so donít shed a tear. Fans of this series can look forward to many more Lessor and Moore adventures to come. And, of course, what one does or doesnít do with his or her life is whatís most important. Everything in Stuff to Spy For that leads up to Skipís death - the stuff he does with his life - is what makes Stuff to Spy For the truly entertaining, cool and suspenseful read that it is.
Skip Moore is employed at the start of the novel in Carol City, Florida, installing security systems for a second-rate business. Heís got the chance of a lifetime: installing a system for Synco Systems. If he does well and completes the job in time, heíll earn a sizable bonus. Synco Systems, in turn, has a security contract with the Defense Department and wants to improve its own security, so has hired the company Skip works for. Skip asks his friend, James, if heíd like to take a break from his job at Capín Crab for the two weeks it will take to install the system - as a supervisor for the princely sum of 12 dollars an hour. James gladly comes on board, and the duo embark on their latest adventure.
Who does skip meet at Synco Systems on his first day there but Sarah Crumbly, the hot cheerleader-type girl he went out with a few times in high school, lost track of and always wondered about. Sheís still as beautiful as ever, but now sheís the mistress of the president of Synco Systems, Sandler (Sandy) Conroy; Sandyís wife is the daughter of the owner of the company. Sarah asks Skip to pretend to be her girlfriend to throw suspicion off of her involvement with Sandy. For that and for parking his car outside Sarahís apartment building a few nights a week, sheíll pay Skip another ten thousand dollars on top of the commission and bonus heís already planning on earning if all goes well. With him and James Lessor on the job, what could possibly go wrong?
As it happens, plenty. The Chinese are after codes Sandy has in his computer so they can gain access to the DoDís secrets. Skip and James one of Synco Systemís security personnel is spying on them, especially when they discover a GPS device attached with magnets under the gas tank of their white truck. Sandyís wife, believing (rightly) that her husband is having an affair and that someone may be planning an attempt on her life, meets with Skip at the seedy Red Derby bar, offering him an additional ten grand to find out who is trying to kill her.
Moore stands to make a crapload of money. All he has to do is set up his own spy system, purchasing things like cameras disguised as smoke detectors and power strips, and a GPS tracking device like the one found under the truck. Luckily, James knows an acquaintance who owns a shop that sells such equipment. Reasoning that he canít afford not to purchase at least some equipment if itíll help him earn beaucoup bucks, he does. Skip and James go into the spy business to protect and insure Skipís potential windfall, as well as potentially stopping the DoDís defense secrets from falling into the wrong hands.
Stuff to Spy For works because of its humor, the inept likability of its two main characters and its copious plot twists. Don Bruns has earned many writing awards for his excellent novels, and he is one of my favorite contemporary mystery/thriller authors.
In addition to his Skip Moore/James Lessor ďStuffÖĒ series, Bruns authors another series starring music journalist Mick Sever and set on tropical islands, such as Bahama Burnout and St. Barts Breakdown. These well-written gems can be read and enjoyed as stand-alone novels, but do yourself a favor and read them all.