A Georgetown private investigator searches for a dead professor’s last manuscript in Hock’s (Jumbled Marionette Strings, 2013) second novel.
Wylie Wainwright, newly licensed as a PI and newly dumped by his girlfriend of five years, gets his first big case from Pioneer Publishing. One of its authors, a renowned historian and university professor named Al Finkel, has been found dead, and his final work has gone missing. The publishers gave Finkel a large advance, so they need to publish the book to make back their investment. Although the police haven’t yet called Finkel’s death a homicide, Wylie begins to suspect foul play when he interviews Finkel’s family, colleagues and teaching assistant. It turns out that there’s a movement to repeal the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which would allow people to sell themselves into slavery to get out of debt, and it’s gaining traction in some political circles. Finkel’s new book could influence the debate, as it would likely oppose such a change. Wylie soon realizes that some people might go to great lengths to keep such a book from publication, and finding Finkel’s lost manuscript could have implications far beyond the publisher’s bottom line. This novel’s premise is unique, and Wylie is a well-drawn character. However, the plot’s philosophical, economic and historical details start to become convoluted as the story progresses, and the action never ramps up; Wylie and his cohorts are never in any real danger. The secondary characters, including Wylie’s best friend, Carter, and the teaching assistant, are one-dimensional; Carter is little more than a party animal, and the only descriptions of the TA focus on her looks. Wylie’s former love, who features heavily in his thoughts, doesn’t even get a line of dialogue when she finally appears. Also, the text’s many misused words (including “discrete” for “discreet,” “piece” for “peace” and “shoe-in” for “shoo-in”) become distracting.
A thought-provoking concept for a mystery novel, but with little action to support it.