Passion tips the scales of justice in an engaging if somewhat disappointing thriller.
On a dark rainy night in Manhattan in 1945, NYPD homicide detectives Jimmy Finn and Jake Downing investigate the death of Wallace Reed, prominent judge. Murder seems likely—a heavy, bloody gavel lies on the floor of the judge’s study. City Democratic boss Manny Troy orders young, virile Downing to guard Reed’s wife Cynthia. Downing is besotted with the widow (“the delicate lines of her beautiful face made my breath catch in my throat”). Do they get it on? Is Finn an Irish cop? Then, on a windy day at a Brooklyn cemetery in 1975, Downing buries his wife Mary. He is guilt-ridden over the damage his affair with Cynthia wreaked on his marriage and on his daughter, born on an afternoon Jake was making passionate love to Cynthia. But he’s also anguished: He knows the wrong man got the chair for the judge’s murder—and he entreats Finn to join him in reopening the case. Their superiors try to warn the detectives off, the same thing that happened in ’45. What do they hide? Two parallel narratives ensue. One follows the investigation in ’45, with Heffernan (Unholy Order, 2002, etc.) bypassing much of the rich detail the period offers and focusing instead on the puzzling questions in the case. Was the judge’s blind involvement in a deal to sell land for the United Nations a motive for the killer? Did Troy or Cynthia smash the judge’s skull? The questions persist in ’75 as the other storyline follows investigators whose newer, sharper technologies promise answers at last. The latter won’t surprise as much as the motives and morals of everyone involved will unsettle the reader.
Heffernan’s case holds attention throughout, but his characters and their melancholy are seldom palpable or haunting.