After having some breathing room from his last case, which brought him up against Islamic operatives in San Francisco in The Black Stone, Cyrus Skeen and his wife take a short vacation on a luxury bus, the Pickwick Stage. But the bus is held up by gangsters. Skeen goes into action and foils the hijacking. But his heroism engenders even more problems and perils. Set in San Francisco in March 1930, Skeen moves around in a familiar milieu dampened by the Depression and the growth of Hooverville shanty towns of foreclosed and impoverished men in the shadow of the city's wealthier neighborhoods. "Reality," Skeen tells his wife, "has called in its markers" of inflation and fatal government management of the economy. Dilys, his wife, is beginning a new painting, and Skeen's first political article has been accepted in a prominent cultural magazine. At the end of The Chameleon, Skeen had told his wife that "Something wicked this way comes." In The Pickwick Affair, he runs head on into a gangsters working for a government agency dedicated to "detoxifying" Americans and instilling fear into them - with a dollop of corruption which always accompanies the imposition of tyranny.
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