In Innocent Murder, Investigator Ng and Stella Pentangeli work different sides of the crime fence. Ng's case is one of triads, drugs sex slavery and murder. By comparison, Stella's case is an embarrassingly trifling showbiz affair - she must discovery who is stealing plotlines from the hugely successful soap The Young and the Naked and selling them to a rival channel.
The cases collide savagely when Stella is tortured by triad members seeking revenge on Ng. Ng tracks down the torturers and kills them in cold blood. Stella, in turn, cannot live with the fact she has the blood of two men on her hands and is the cause of Ng's turning away from the law.
The 3rd book in Steve J. Spears' Pentangeli Papers picks up where the second book, Murder by Manuscript left off. This occasionally dark and brooding but mostly wildly amusing series teams Stella Pentangeli - detective to the stars - with Inspector Ng - the brilliant police detective surrounded by an impenetrable air of mystery.
It may be prudent to go through a quick recap of the story so far so that we are all up to speed on exactly where everything stands when Innocent Murder opens. Stella Pentangeli is a former popular television anchor who was unceremoniously dumped by the station after her hair changed colour from red to white overnight and she refused to change it back. She has since become editor of The Pentangeli Papers, an entertainment gossip newsletter published on the internet - an e-zine. But lately she has enjoyed a certain level of success as a detective of sorts, solving a variety of crimes perpetrated within the glitzy entertainment biz. Coming to her rescue on a number of occasions and displaying rare brilliance is the all-seeing, rarely talking Inspector Ng. They now seem to enjoy a strong working relationship.
Oh yeah that's right, I should also mention that Stella secretly fancies Inspector Ng something shocking, a feeling that Inspector Ng reciprocates...secretly. Emanating from this is more than your healthy dose of sexual tension adding plenty of clever, dry and even silly humour to the mystery.
Playing an incoherent old Chinese junkie, Inspector Ng has disappeared from his normal routine and has gone undercover, hanging around one of the brothels owned by Mr Ma, head of the Honourable Fuk Chin Society. His aim is to get inside, plant a few bugs and gather enough incriminating information to bring down the Triad leader and his entire operation.
In a completely separate storyline, Stella is hired by her old Channel 3 boss to investigate the possibility of script theft by a rival station. It appears that the storylines from the hugely popular drama The Young and the Naked are being stolen and are airing on the struggling Channel 4 soapy Neighborhood. The result is growing ratings for the Channel 4 soap and a struggle to find a storyline for TY&TN.
Fortunately, with Stella on the case there is the reassurance that the thief will be caught and the natural soap opera order will be restored. Or so one would have hoped.
A funny thing happens partway through Innocent Murder. The tone of the series takes a radical twist away from the humorous and ventures into the more serious hardboiled realm. There is a real sense of danger present with Stella actually suffering a beating and even Ng finding himself in real trouble as he infiltrates the ruthless Chinese triad. This more serious side to the Pentangeli Papers brings the series to a completely new level, with a more dangerous and brooding mood about it.
As with the first 2 books in the series the story gallops along at a frantic rate, alternating between Ng's operation and Stella's investigation. Both storylines make good progress without ever really overlapping one another. It's as if there is a consolidation of the overall plot taking place, Ng and Stella are taking a bit of a breather from one another. This, of course, eased the sexual tension that had been building between the two, but in its place is a storyline that involves people smuggling and slave trade, the Russian mafia, not to mention the odd brutal murder.
The Pentangeli Papers continues to be a very enjoyable series, hitting on a combination of danger and humour that makes Innocent Murder a very quick read.