It is June 1929. The Roaring Twenties are still roaring, but the period is doomed. San Francisco's celebrated Cyrus Skeen, private detective and scion of Eastern wealth, is secure in his solvency; he has never bought stock on margin. He is as finicky about what stocks to invest in as he is in the kind of client he is willing to accept and work for. Soon after his case in The Head of Athena, he is approached by Susan Harker, wife of Hosanna Harker, a noted local novelist accused of murdering his publisher, Marc Pearson, who has apparently pirated many of Harker's novels and sold them under other titles and names. Mrs. Harker wants Skeen to prove that her husband did not murder the publisher.
But soon after that visit, another woman, Anya Spearitt, demands that Skeen prove that Hosanna Harker did indeed murder her ex-husband. Skeen does not balk at the challenge; he senses that something is terribly amiss. A third woman calls on Skeen and asks him not to get involved at all. Skeen visits the jailed novelist and is almost sorry that he took on the case; Hosanna Harker is a very nasty person. Skeen rifles through a catalogue of miscreants, malcontents, and suspects, and by the end of Stolen Words isolates the true murderer. Plagiarism isn't the only wrongdoing Skeen encounters but thieves exploiting each other's thieving and a crew of philandering pragmatists. It's a conundrum only Cyrus Skeen can resolve in his own inimitable way.
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