Robert J. Bowman. The Screaming Buddha (1994) 242 pp.
Jack Squire is a petty criminal, scam artist, parolee, and erstwhile cab driver who drives around the city in an old Checker, looking less for fares than for free meals. He lives in the garage of a mansion in the “Heights,” collects comic books, and has a wacky assortment of friends, including the teenage son of his landlord (whom he has nicknamed “Putz”) and photographer girlfriend with a foul mouth. While sneaking his way around a toy and novelty convention, Jack learns about an abandoned container on the waterfront, just waiting for someone to pick it up. So he borrows a truck from his buddy, Jerry Mack (so named because he drives a Mack truck) and claims the container—getting much than he bargained for in the process. Not only is it filled with seemingly useless rubber Buddha dolls that shriek when you press their bellies, but he attracts the unwanted attention of a U.S. Customs clerk. When the clerk, who turns out to be a pretty decent sort of fellow, is gruesomely murdered, Jack becomes the prime suspect—something that will definitely not sit well with his pretty parole officer if she should find out. In order to prevent that from happening, Jack determines to find the killer himself—and hopefully find a way to unload the Buddhas and turn a profit for himself. He becomes a messenger for a mysterious customs broker, gets himself beaten up (more than once), puts his breaking and entering skills to good use, and nearly gets himself killed before unraveling the mystery.
Editor’s note: Interestingly, although the dust jacket illustration includes an image of the Golden Gate Bridge, the publisher’s copy on the inside flap identifies San Francisco by name, and the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data includes San Francisco subject headings, the author never identifies the city by name, persisting in referring to “Our Fair City” and deliberately obscuring street names and neighborhoods.
Setting: San Francisco (“Our Fair City”)