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DEVIL IN THE HOLE by Charles Salzberg


by Charles Salzberg

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4328-2696-3
Publisher: Five Star

The author of two novels about unlicensed private eye Henry Swann (Swann’s Last Song, 2008, etc.) switches gears for something equally laconic but completely different: a whydunit without the why.

After weeks of uneasiness that the lights in his Connecticut neighbor’s baronial house are left burning all night—though the rooms seem to go permanently dark one night at a time—James Kirkwood persuades two officers of the Sedgewick PD to check up on the house. Inside, they find John Hartman’s mother shot to death in her bed and his wife and three teenage children arrayed on a series of neatly folded blankets, each executed with a single shot. Even the family dog has been killed. Since there’s no sign of Hartman, a computer analyst for Xerox, Charlie Floyd, an investigator for the State’s Attorney, goes in search of him. But Hartman’s head start of three weeks has left his trail cold, and he’s an elusive quarry in more ways than one. Dozens of different narrators of individual chapters run across Hartman unwittingly without getting or giving a very specific impression of him. He seems to glide on autopilot through his trysts with secretary Janie McClellan, who seduced him a year ago. Stanley Blake, who fired him from his job, has no idea why his performance fell off. Hartman gets into a fight with a Florida ex-con barfly and gives a hitchhiking Scarsdale coed a lift for no good reason and with no result. When he gets a chance to describe his flight from his own point of view, Hartman is no more illuminating; he seems merely bemused and reactive. Perhaps the single most frustrating moment comes when he asks the sister he’s phoned, “Don’t you want to know why I did it?” and she answers, “No. No, I don’t.”

Rashomon-like mystery without a solution, not even the unveiling of a deeper mystery.