Another bursting
of a techie's bubble

''DOT DEAD: A Silicon Valley Mystery''
By Keith Raffel
(Midnight Ink, 280 pp., $13.95 paperback)
Buy at Amazon

Reviewed by John Orr
July 2006

Keith Raffel is a smart guy who grew up in Palo Alto, went away to great schools and jobs, came back to Palo Alto for even better jobs, founded a software company, then sold it to Siebel Systems, where he now holds an executive position. He and his wife live nine houses away from where he grew up, and have four children. Which begs the question, How did he ever find time to write a mystery novel?

And yet he did, and it's a pretty good one, ''Dot Dead: A Silicon Valley Mystery,'' about a smart guy who grew up in Palo Alto, went to great schools and got great jobs, and who still lives in Palo Alto, where he is a key part of a tech company.

One day he -- Ian Michaels -- comes home early, gets bonked on his head, and when he wakes up he finds a woman he'd never met in his bed. She's beautiful. Also, she's dead, which leads to tr ouble with the police, especially when a lot of evidence is discovered that proves that she was his maid, she was maybe in love with him, and someone had taken photographs of her in his backyard. If not him, who?

He is arrested, of course, but has rich friends and a good lawyer, so is soon out and about, looking for clues mostly in Palo Alto but also up and down the state.

True, the late Gwendolyn Goldberg had been his maid, but provided through a service, and although he and she often left notes for each other -- and she had also left him cookies -- they had never met. Or so he says.

An almost subtle plot element Raffel throws in is that Michaels tends to be absent-minded about the details of his home, which can lead the devious-minded to wondering if maybe Michaels just forgot he had been having an affair with the beautiful young maid, and maybe even just forgot he was a vicious, psychopathic killer.

And then he meets Gwendolyn's sister, Rowena, and the two of them do fall in love, which leads to further complications of motive and plot.

This book was a pleasure to read, and it was especially fun to read about Palo Alto from the perspective of a smart person who grew up there, who can still remember it at its best, before its charm began to erode under the unrelenting pressure of the big-money MBAs who followed the scent of high-tech money and who now tailgate each other at high speed down Oregon Expressway, hurrying, hurrying toward the next hoped-for big deal.