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The Bug in the Martini Olive, and Other True Cases from the Files of Hal Lipset, Private Eye.

The Bug in the Martini Olive, and Other True Cases from the Files of Hal Lipset, Private Eye. by Patricia Holt; published by Little, Brown and Company, 800343-9204;311 pages; $21.95.

Patricia Holt has crafted a captivating, entertaining, and thought-provoking retrospective of the life and work of San Francisco private eye Hal Lipset. This is not just a collection of detective stories but part biography as told from the diary of Lipset's late wife, Lynn; part candid and in-depth interview with Lipset; and part philosophical inquiry into the role of and ethical issues facing the private investigator.

Holt leads the reader from the unregulated early days of Lipset's career and his use of surreptitious electronic voice-recording equipment and photographic surveillance to the present-day with the patchwork of state and federal legislative limitations on electronic eavesdropping.

In amusing terms she describes his partnerships with the creative electronics technician Ralph Bertsche and contrasts his personality with that of Harry Caul, the paranoid investigator portrayed by Gene Hackman in Francis Ford Coppola's film, The Conversation, for which Lipset served as technical adviser. She also recounts Lipset's headline-grabbing stunt before a US Senate subcommittee on electronic eavesdropping that provides the book's title.

Holt tells of Lipset's invaluable experiences as an Army CID officer during World War II that began to shape what would later become his professional modus operandi. She then introduces us to Lipset's wife, who was a founding partner in their detective agency.

Holt goes to great lengths to illustrate how Lipset's investigative style differs from more traditional or bureaucratic investigators. She describes the evolution of some of the operative theories under which Lipset has conducted his work, such as the theory of the lying client and the theory of the jigsaw puzzle.

Holt then tells the tales of two of Lipset's most fascinating cases, one of which led to the first public exposure of the federal government's witness relocation program.

The author next moves into the stuff of pulp novels, the sleaze work often associated with private detectives: sexual snooping, child kidnapping in divorce litigation, and cults as clients.

Through it all, she artfully interweaves the words of his wife's diaries to provide a humanizing counterpoint to Lipset's "I'm just in it for the money" posturing.

Holt provides colorful descriptions of Lipset's supporting role to some of San Francisco's legendary trial lawyers, including Melvin Belli and the late James Martin MacInnis. She provides an armchair psychoanalyst's glimpse into Lipset's psyche and examines what fuels the motivational fire that has driven Lipset to such prominence.

The reader is left with a portrait of a complex and intellectually gifted man, one committed to the American system of justice yet at times accused of working on behalf of its enemies.

Although the title makes the book sound more like a collection of detectives stories than the multifaceted biography it is, this book is enlightening and entertaining. If it has one weakness, it is organization, for at times Holt is uncertain into which genre the book should fall.

One caveat: Holt's style makes it difficult to stop turning pages, so don't start reading this the night before an early wake-up call.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hirsch, Steven
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1992
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