Christmas has come to the 87th Precinct, but the holiday does nothing for drug pilot Cassandra Ridley, whose latest flight from Mexico earns her both a $10,000 tip in counterfeit hundred-dollar bills from the sellers and a one-way trip to the lions’ den in the Grover Park Zoo. Since one-fifth of Cass’s mauled body lies inside the 88th Precinct, Det. Steve Carella has to share the case with Det. Oliver Wendell Weeks, who adds insult to injury by saving Carella’s life in the first of many Rube Goldberg sequences. As the ill-assorted pair of cops follows the trail of the money Cass died for, the hunt for the cash—$1.7 million or $1.9 million, depending who’s doing the counting—is joined as well by main-chance dope-dealer Walter Wiggins, a pair of blond hit-babes, untold agencies of the federal government, and the two original sellers, till the cash is eventually tied into a mind-boggling conspiracy stretching from an old family publishing firm (a few nice barbs here) to a bombing in Clarendon Hall, whose floor plan will remind many readers of a familiar New York landmark. On the home front, Carella struggles to accept the Milanese furniture manufacturer his mother has been seeing, and Fat Ollie, who’s taking piano lessons, struggles to master the opening measure of “Night and Day.”
Though the latter stages of the conspiracy pass belief, the complications in this 51st case for the 87th (The Last Dance, 2000, etc.) flow so effortlessly and the tone is so irresistibly ebullient that you can relax in the hands of a master. Merry Christmas.