Hard-used former swimmer Duck Darley (Under Water, 2017) gets pulled into a no-win case that shows that dry land is no safer for him than H2O.
His live-in gig providing swimming lessons to 8-year-old Stevie Cohen and orgasms to his mother, retired fashion editor Juliette Cohen, abruptly ended by an urgent text message imploring him to call his sometime partner, Cassandra Kimball, aka Mistress Justine, Duck travels upstate to see Cass and finds her inconsolable at the death of her lover, faded writer Victor Wingate, whose body has been found over the falls of a mountain in the Northern Catskills. Six years ago, Victor had attempted suicide, and the local cops think he was just more successful this time. But Cass insists that Victor couldn’t have killed himself: His new book, The Athlete, promised to be such a barn-burning exposé of the travails of an East German javelin thrower and his experiences as part of that country's Olympic doping program that it had inspired Victor with a fiery new sense of purpose. At the same time, it’s clear that Victor’s research into BioVida’s Dr. Eberhard Lipke, who’s been doping athletes into success for 50 years, and his equally unscrupulous American partner, Dr. James Crowley, has ruffled some serious feathers. Even before Duck meets with Cass, he’s threatened by Oliver, a tattooed henchman whose targets soon expand to include Juliette and Stevie. When Victor’s death is followed by another, that of a former athlete named Carl Kruger, Cass herself becomes suspected of double murder by the authorities. Meanwhile, Duck’s prodigious appetites for drugs, booze, and sex will lead him to the beds of three women, one of whom will whip him with his full consent in a high-concept dungeon, then decline next day to give him an alibi, before the mystery peters out in a shower of disappointing revelations and nonrevelations.
The hero works so hard at being tough, and the author works so hard at giving him chances to be tough, that the resulting narrative, laconic and sensitive to a fault, reads like a pastiche of men’s-magazine fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.