This offbeat, suspenseful page-turner proves that insurance investigations can be interesting.
When eight people end up dead after an “impromptu drag race” in Webb’s debut novel, everyone from the Los Angeles police to the insurance companies assume it was an accident. After all, Howard Cummings was racing another driver when he drove his red roadster into a pickup truck. But when former reporter Alex Fogarty, the insurance investigator for the company that insured Cummings, takes another look at the evidence, he realizes that Cummings didn’t actually start the three-car accident: The pickup truck hit the van ahead of it first, and Cummings’s car slid in underneath. When Alex takes his discovery to the police, they’re not interested, but Alex can’t let it go, even though he has plenty of his own problems to worry about—including the five houses he bought to flip but is now on the verge of losing. It turns out that the van involved in the pileup belonged to Liberty Industries, a big energy company with a famous chief executive who’s embroiled in a contentious divorce. Liberty Industries happened to hold corporate-owned life insurance policies on its employees who died in the crash: For any employee that dies, Liberty, not the employee’s relatives, get a payout. Was this a “well-established and innocent financing practice” or something more sinister? With Alex, Webb has created a funny, credible protagonist with a lingo all his own. Alex’s explanation, for example, of how crooks use the “swoop and squat” technique to “score a quick settlement” enlightens the reader while moving the plot along. Webb also has a knack for descriptive language. When, after surfing, Alex leaves the ocean and peels off his rubber bodysuit, Webb notes, “The empty rubber sleeves of his bodysuit hung away from his hips like vestigial limbs that shuddered when he moved.” Sometimes, though, Webb falls prey to overwriting. It’s not enough for a priest to look at Alex knowingly and realize that he’s carrying a gun in a church; Webb writes that the priest’s look “was the look of a man who understood cause and effect, of a man who recognized sin.” But the occasional melodramatic phrase doesn’t slow down an otherwise brisk, action-packed thriller.
A clever beach read, this mystery will leave readers hoping for a return visit from its sharp man with a plan.