Of all the sardonic sleuths in the growing cadre of female private detectives, none is more clearly built for the movies than Linda Barnes’ ex-policewoman Carlotta Carlyle. She’s a statuesque redhead who comes equipped with a storm-tossed romantic history, a suitably atmospheric day job as a Boston taxi driver, and an honors degree from the Raymond Chandler Academy of Wryly Aphoristic Speech.

What Barnes hasn’t yet given Carlotta is enough personality to shape the stories of her investigations. In Steel Guitar, the fourth Carlyle mystery, Barnes sends her detective on an agreeably convoluted music-industry probe involving a blues rocker on the comeback trail, an accusation of song-stealing, a murder, and a guest appearance by Carlotta’s ex-junkie ex-husband. The mystery is efficiently constructed, but Carlotta remains an oddly colorless observer among the lively musicians, roadies, and groupies who populate the story. Barnes has a potentially durable character in her cop-turned-cabbie, but this time out, Carlotta stalls. C+

Steel Guitar
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