If two mystery writers can collaborate under one name—as Dannay and Lee did as Ellery Queen—why can’t one writer team up with his pseudonymous self in an offering that displays the full range of his talent? Indeed, that’s just what Evan Hunter does in his latest, a tour de force that lets Hunter (Privileged Conversation, 1996, etc.) plumb the psychic depths of evil while alter ego McBain (The Last Dance, 2000, etc.) serves up its more mundane details in the shape of a police investigation. Hunter keeps a tight focus on sex-obsessed Ben Thorpe, successful architect, husband, and father, as he tries in vain to scratch that primeval itch while away on business in New York—first with an old girlfriend, then with a bar pickup, and last and most desperately in an East Side brothel. Then McBain pans wide, as Emma Boyle, from New York’s Special Victims Unit, joins Homicide detective Anthony Manzetti and James Morgan from Vice to investigate the death of a hooker from that same brothel who was killed the night of Thorpe’s visit. As Boyle, hewing to the detective dictum “find the vic—find the perp,” peers deeper into the life of murdered Cathy Frese (“Heidi” to her friends and customers), Thorpe drops off the radar screen; the cops can’t find him, either in New York or back home in L.A., and for Boyle he becomes merely one of a number of suspects in a brutal, baffling murder.
An offbeat collaboration, but the lack of resonance between its two parts undercuts the fine writing.