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Supersleuth Mixes Crime, Comedy

Adam Davies' third novel — a comic thriller composed with literary refinement — bounces through a world of objets d'art and tranquilizer darts. The hero, Otto J. Starks, is a "pulse," an ultra-elite rent-a-cop — the guy who's supposed to sound the alarm when the ski-masked thieves have disabled the laser beams.

Otto excels partly because of his toxic-tolerance-building diet ("I have devoted the last fifteen years of my life to cultivating immunities to every drug you can name"), and partly because his powers of sensory perception are superheroically sensitive. After sniffing out notes of cardamom and coriander on his art-historian girlfriend's best bra, he discerns that she's been dallying with someone who eats curry.

A superhero is, of course, nothing without a worthy archnemesis. The Rat Burglar, who moves with an "arrogant, matadorlike attitude of indifference," swipes $30 million of valuables from under Otto's delicate nose in a nine-month span. Will he snare the villain? Will he get the girl? Would you feel terribly cheated if the predictable came to pass and the villain were the girl?

If so, this is not the pop art bauble for you. Fleet and funny, Mine All Mine resembles Davies' earlier overdue-coming-of-age comedies in its boyish wit and calls to mind many a recent American novel in its comic-book boisterousness. It's also cinematic in a French New Wave fashion — breezy and self-analytic, with Otto referring to the tribal masks and rococo paintings he guards as "MacGuffins," Hitchcock's term for thingums important to the plot and nothing else.

Davies' command of juicy slang and florid wordplay gives Otto's narration a charming medium-boiled texture — "It's hot enough to deliquesce cardboard, but mainly I'm slicked in the sweat of tortured morality." And his sophisticated sense of hammy humor generates dialogue as rich as good prosciutto. "Who taught you how to punch?" Otto's astonished sidekick asks him at one point. "Jessica," comes the reply. "Cardio-kick. Tuesdays/Thursdays at seven."

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