A retired Massachusetts cop-turned-private eye aids police in tracking down a killer intent on taking out greedy, specifically targeted corporate executives in this debut thriller.
The Valentine’s Day murder of Amalgamated Worldwide Enterprises’ CFO Sam Johnston is shocking by itself. But Johnston’s boss is AWE Chairman and CEO Bradford Baxton III, the notorious “king of downsizing,” whose purchase and systematic decimation of companies have left thousands unemployed. Baxton’s tie to the murder is undisputed later when a message from the killer, in the style of a press release, says AWE will be experiencing its own downsizing and lists future terminations, including the CEO. After the culprit follows through on at least one of those executions, Baxton seeks help from former cop Bill Coine, whom the company’s chief of security recommended. Coine’s enjoying retirement with his wife, Jeanie, but reluctantly takes the case—though first he has to file for a private investigator license. Countless people whose lives Baxton ruined have motives, but Coine quickly zeros in on public relations officer Lt. Kimberly Hale. Her father’s suicide years ago was likely the result of an AWE acquisition. Evidence against Kimberly, however, is circumstantial, and cops hunt for something more concrete. Baxton, meanwhile, lives up to the sour reputation he’s gradually earned. He’s undoubtedly worried about Johnston’s computer, making a motion for authorities to return it and claiming he doesn’t know the password for accessing it. Whether or not he’s hiding something sinister may come out at someone’s criminal trial, with cops hoping to put a murderer behind bars.
Hanrahan’s novel is dense with characters, all of which the author skillfully manages. Individuals are progressively introduced, for example, and not all at once, while many, like First Assistant District Attorney and Chief of Homicide Sandra Jones, ease into the plot among a handful of already established characters. Likewise, Kimberly’s perspective puts an early spotlight on her, and though she’s the most viable suspect, it’s not abundantly clear that she’s guilty of the murders. This makes for an intriguing contrast to the characters’ unusually candid dialogue. Most say what they’re thinking, as in Baxton discussing Coine’s potential employment: “But let’s be blunt. I want to stay alive. That’s the real reason I’m willing to give you this retainer and an unlimited expense account.” Mystery, in spite of this, remains, with the killer’s identity in question and uncertainty surrounding Johnston’s “special projects,” presumably somewhere on his computer. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue is repetitive, especially different characters referring to Kimberly in similar colloquial terms: “gal,” “lady,” or “little miss blue eyes.” But Coine is an exceptional protagonist, joining the story as an outsider: he’s sleeping in while everyone else has been engaged in the narrative’s action. Conversations between Coine and Jeanie are diverting, especially when she initially urges her husband not to get involved with Johnston’s murder. It’s therefore disappointing when Jeanie drops out of the story, and even Coine is scarce during the final act (though it’s reasonable that his part in a trial would be minute).
A sound mystery fronted by an immensely likable detective primed for a sequel.