Manhattan is a new planet to visiting sculptor Sam Jones, whose latest mobile is being featured in an exhibition at Carol Bergmann’s SoHo gallery. The canned voices of Joan Rivers and Placido Domingo exhort taxi passengers to fasten their seatbelts, and the ready availability of acid and heroin shocks the demure Sam, who would never abuse her system with anything but cocaine and margaritas. Given her corpse-littered track record (Freeze My Margarita, p. 20, etc.), though, she’s less shocked than resigned when the cops who turn up at the gallery after a nasty spate of vandalism turn out to be from Homicide South, investigating the murder of an inoffensive gallery archivist who was strangled in the darkly inviting precincts of Central Park. In fact, given the catty vibrations given off by the surviving cast, from gallery assistant Laurence Debray to hack painter Barbara Bilder, the biggest mystery here is why one of them didn’t get killed instead. Henderson provides reams of her reliable bitchy chitchat—each introduction of a new character is a little gem of downscale hauteur—but, forgetting that she’s writing a detective story, leaves out the detection (at length Sam, getting one of her unforgivable hunches, uses it to dig up evidence she hides from the bemused reader) and with it the momentum that ought to be making this novel more than a transcript of some great dialogue.
Like Craig Rice’s people 50 years ago, Henderson’s are consistently more interesting when they’re making conversation than when they’re killing each other or bringing each other to book. (Author tour)