Books by Philip Harper

DEATH BENEFIT by Philip Harper
Released: July 12, 2000

" Except for some occasional ill-advised foreshadowing, Harper's businesslike prose, more John Lutz than John D. MacDonald, makes the whole fairy tale even more chilling. You'll be demanding receipts from your own insurance agent."
The whole insurance racket is one big, unregulated scam, Harper notes—and he's got some unpleasant facts to back him up—but smiling Jim Hartman, of Bethlehem Casualty & Life, is running a series of scams that go even further. Hartman pushes high-premium burial insurance to ghetto moms, cancels low-risk policies without notifying his clients and pockets years' worth of premiums, and buys off the lawsuits brought against him by the few bereaved relatives he can't con into accepting his sad tale of how the departed must have cancelled the policy or borrowed against it himself. His latest con is to murder victims whose deaths can be disguised as accidents and then goad their estates into launching wrongful-death suits that will include a payout for him. One day, Philadelphia reporter-turned-avenger George Gray (Final Fear, 1993, etc.) implicates Hartman in the refusal to pay off the insurance claim of his late ex-lover Karen Murphy, and from that point on, it's a fight to the death, as Gray patiently assembles evidence against Hartman—not so he can get him arrested and tried, but so that he can extort a fat settlement for the families Hartman preyed on—and Hartman calmly calls Gray's bluffs, reveals the patsy he's set up to take the rap for him, and reminds Gray how good an investment life insurance would have been for the nuisances who thought they could cross swords with him before. Read full book review >
FINAL FEAR by Philip Harper
Released: July 2, 1993

Medical thriller set in a decaying Philadelphia hospital for the inner-city poor. In Payback (1991), ex-reporter George Gray got the goods on big-time crooks, then blackmailed them, which he knows is more painful to the crooks than jail time. This time out, George visits an old friend in Clarke Hospital who dies in unnecessary pain. Piqued, Gray smells graft afloat in the halls and checks himself in as a heart-attack victim, a state he knows how to simulate. (Even so, the staff nearly loses him!) George sneaks about, pops open files, and finds that pain-ridden patients are being cheated on their morphine and expensive drugs by being given placebos or useless, cheap substitutes. Someone is racking up millions off patients' pain. And patients are also silently being murdered by a serial killer who stalks the halls—ironically, the hospital's most respected healer, Dr. John A. Walker, the brilliant, tireless, ever-helpful, assistant chief of critical care and white god of the interns and other residents. Sad to say, Walker's a big sickie who gets a kick out of strangling old ladies or jabbing elderly men with naughty needles that stop the breath. What's more, Walker is bedding hospital administrator Nancy Abbott, who runs the drug scam and signs Walker's bodies out to nursing homes that never receive them (they go into pauper's graves) but that bill the government for payments to be split with Abbott and Walker. Meanwhile, George Gray falls in with terrific resident Molly Hale, who helps him break into files. But little does Molly know that Walker regularly etherizes her while she sleeps off-duty in the hospital, strips her down, and enjoys God's handiwork. Walker's motivation as a killer: to experience ``final fear'' in those he murders and overcome it in himself. Less striking than Payback, with Gray cracking secrets faster than a ferret, but the lore about the money-side of hospitals is top-notch. Read full book review >
PAYBACK by Philip Harper
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Knockout first novel by ``the combined talents of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a criminal psychologist''—a psychothriller already optioned for film. George Gray, an ex-reporter, has found a new use for investigative journalism. He locates big-money bad guys in real estate or other endeavors, gets the goods on them, then threatens them with exposure in print and with jail terms unless they make full restitution on their misdeeds—and also give him a juicy cut. (``That's the payback. Blackmail. You end up calling the shots, telling them what to do and making them pay you. They hate it more than any jail.'') Gray thinks that this act makes reporting seem impotent: where the reporter drops his ink bomb and then sits back to watch, Gray follows through and himself runs criminals through the wringer—and he's done this many times. But this time out he's nearly torn to ribbons by attack dogs and by a psychotic second-in- command, Reidus, who enjoys inspired modes of inflicting pain, often letting his victims live to experience their pain to the full. At one point Reidus even breaks Gray's leg like balsa wood. He also appears as unkillable as Frankenstein's monster and rises incredibly from the dead to go on with his horrors. He works for master swindler Carlton, who is emptying a Philadelphia suburb of its blue-collar inhabitants, one by one, and buying up their property on a grand scale, supposedly to build a mall and a spanking new community (he's really just after investors' money). Gray falls in with Sara Mitchell, daughter of Carlton's former partner whom Carlton drove to suicide. Sara herself has become a supertrained killing machine—but is she a match for Reidus? Rich in every way, about detection, newspapering, real estate, with sly echoes of The Maltese Falcon. Read full book review >