The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Warren Murphy

Warren Murphy's Digger / Trace Series

Digger 1 Smoked Out by Warren Murphy

Warren Murphy is best known for his Destroyer series about a five-thousand-year-old House of Assassins, but he is also an award-winning mystery writer. Smoked Out is the first book in a series that would ultimately span two publishers. It’s a little bit slow to get started. Digger is an alcoholic gambler who gets called in by the CEO of an insurance company to investigate strange cases with high payouts. That’s very important. His job isn’t finding a murderer or a thief or protecting someone like a cop or a private investigator might do, it’s looking for insurance fraud or some way to void an insurance claim. And it isn’t often clear that there is fraud—his cases are just peculiar.

In this first novel, Digger is asked to look into a case in which a woman drove her car off a hill and died. Nothing actually looks wrong about the case except that the insurance company owes a million dollars on the claim. The police are convinced its an accident. And frankly, Digger is leaning that way too, but he starts investigating and he’s interesting to watch, even though things are a little slow moving in the first chapters.

He's just about to give up when two guys decide to beat him in an attempted “mugging,” convincing him to look a little more. The story heats up very quickly after that. I love the solution to this case. It’s a lot of little things that build a very convincing picture of a bad guy who did something very wrong.

It’s a great mystery.

Digger 2 Fool’s Flight by Warren Murphy

A private plane goes down with forty people and its pilot—each of whom had just taken out a $250,000 insurance policy at an airport vending machine. Digger is asked to find out if there’s any reason at all his insurance company could refuse to pay the money. Once again, Murphy has put together a fascinating case with great little clues. But the best part of the book is that Digger’s Japanese girlfriend, a genius-IQ blackjack dealer (and sometimes prostitute) gets a lot more screen time in this novel than she did in the first. She’s a fabulous character who is smarter than Digger. Her relationship with him is at times troubling and at times very cute. Neither are particularly faithful, both clearly care deeply about each other, but are too personally messed up to commit to a normal relationship.

Once again, a great story with a great solution.

Digger 3 Dead Letter

This is easily the best of the Digger novels yet. Digger is asked by his boss to check in on his college-aged daughter when he travels to Boston. Digger does so only to discover two things – the daughter is not the sheltered young near-nun that her father thinks she is, and someone is trying to frighten her and just possibly murder her. The mechanism for scaring her is a chain letter which has a list of people who are going to die. The first name on the list is someone that the girl had, herself, put on a dorm joke-list of people the world would be better off without—a person who has just died in an alleged accident. But more people on the list die and then the girl’s name appears on it too.

There’s a lot of tension in this fast-moving mystery, but the clues are all there for anyone paying enough attention to figure them out. (I did figure it out, which of course, makes me think even more highly of the mystery.)

My biggest concern with the novel was that Digger’s girlfriend, Koko, wouldn’t appear since she and he live in Las Vegas and the story is in Boston, but fortunately she does get to contribute to both the mystery and the story.

Digger 4 Lucifer’s Weekend by Warren Murphy

Digger is back with another crazy case. A woman is refusing to accept half of a million dollar insurance payout because she cannot believe her husband was so stupid or careless that he accidentally electrocuted himself. Digger’s insurance company is concerned that if she doesn’t accept the full amount they might be liable to a lawsuit down the road when the woman realized how foolish she was being. So, Digger goes to a small Pennsylvania town to convince her and ends up looking into the incident and suspecting that the man had actually been murdered.

This has a great cast of characters—especially a wonderfully depicted eight-year-old girl with a genius-plus level IQ. It’s a delight to watch Digger slowly get himself motivated to find out what was really going on, and his lazy personality leads him not to take a precaution that would have protected him from the events at the end of the book. Usually, when something like that happens, I get irritated at the author for lazy writing, but not this time. Digger’s lapse was totally in character.

Perhaps the best thing about the crime was how easy it actually was to prove that the official story could not have happened. It sums up the situation in the town perfectly. This one is another gem in the series.

Digger versus Trace

When Warren Murphy switched publishers, the new publisher demanded that he change all of the names in the Digger series. So, Digger, becomes Trace, Koko becomes Chico, etc. Otherwise, it’s the same series except the Trace books are three times as long.

Trace by Warren Murphy

The first book in the Trace series is really the fifth book in the Digger series. When Murphy changed publishers, they made him change all the names in the books, so Digger becomes Trace, Koko becomes Chico, etc. The atmosphere of the novels remains the same, so if you enjoyed Digger, you will definitely enjoy Trace.

The plot of this novel is a little bit difficult. Trace’s insurance company is about to pay out on a policy in which the deceased recently changed the beneficiary from his family to his doctor. The family is talking to lawyers and the insurance company wants to make certain everything is on the up and up—and while Trace is out there his boss wants him to check on a friend in the same hospital and make certain he isn’t about to die as well.

That’s where things get interesting because things are not good with the friend—but what exactly is wrong is not easy to tell. Throw in a séance or two, a couple of lawyers, an irate business partner, and a patient who seems to be in fear and you have a good mystery.

While all of this is unfolding, Chico is secretly exploring a job opportunity which would move her to the other side of the country from Trace. And Chico and Trace’s strange and dysfunctional friendship/relationship is one of the most interesting parts of the novel. They don’t appear to want to get married. They aren’t particularly faithful to each other. And yet, both are also very jealous of each other.

Trace 2 And 47 Miles of Rope by Warren Murphy

This is the most complicated Trace/Digger story to date—so much so that I put together nothing that was important until the end of the story finding most of my entertainment in the subplot around Trace’s parents visiting him in Las Vegas and his mother driving his girlfriend crazy. The mystery involved a murder (which Trace is investigating to make certain that the victim wasn’t killed by the beneficiary of his insurance policy) and some missing jewels (which I assumed without evidence had actually been stolen by the owner in a separate insurance fraud). What actually happened is extremely complex and it wasn’t until Trace explained everything at the end of the story that I understood anything that had happened. I’m not sure that that makes for a good story, but I did find the book entertaining.

Trace 3 When Elephants Forget by Warren Murphy

This is an excellent mystery surrounding the murder of the son of a low-level mafia type. To make matters just a little bit odd, the college age son who was murdered was wearing a Richard Nixon mask at the time of his death. Trace has to figure out what the heck happened and do so in New York City which is way too close to New Jersey where his wife and children (“what’s his name and the girl”) live. He’s also saddled with his father who dreams of setting up a detective agency with his son (just so that dad has an excuse to get out of the house and away from Trace’s mother a little while each day).

It's an excellent mystery which Trace (with a little help from dad and a lot of help from Chico) unravels in another excellent ending.

Trace 4 Pigs Get Fat by Warren Murphy

Trace and Chico are back trying to determine if a missing man is actually dead so that an insurance policy has to be paid out on him. When Trace finds the body, he decides that rather than report it to the police right away, it makes more sense to figure out who killed him first. There are lots of possible culprits because the dead man, Collins, slept with any woman he could coax into bed with himself—an expensive pastime which he funded through…well I don’t want to give everything away. This is another good one!