Biographies are as telling as clues in this smartly written debut mystery set in California wine country.
Ghostwriter Charlie Teller ought to recognize a fall from grace when he sees one. Celebrities, artists and athletes who’d flown high only to crash and burn had been Charlie’s bread-and-butter, at least until personal scandal abruptly punctuated his own career and turned his marriage into a dangling modifier. But the murder of Santa Rosa restaurateur and health-club owner Paul Barkley requires deep background sleuthing, and Charlie has the chops for the job. He found the body, after all. Plus there’s that memory stick Paul passed to Charlie on the night of the murder, containing a mysterious spreadsheet, and it was Paul who introduced Charlie to Rajiv Patel, a construction mogul in search of a memoirist, on whose estate Teller now lives and writes. Local detective Eddie Mahler suspects Charlie has unauthorized dirt on Paul, and he’s not far off. Complicating the picture is Paul’s fiancée Page, a fitness instructor who may have private exercise plans for Charlie, and Kenny McDonald, reclusive ex–front man for a famed ’60s band and the local poster boy for lawyers, guns and money. When Charlie teams with a neo-bohemian masseuse from Paul’s health club and her former–Special Forces beau for some legwork, there will be blood. The brisk action gets interrupted by a series of digressions in which Charlie reflects on his past books. These are strong stories, with thoughtful accounts of the ghostwriter’s craft and the hazards of success and failure, but at times they feel too deep for this otherwise well-coiled suspense, especially when Teller’s richly drawn celebrity subjects threaten to eclipse the book’s main cast. Nonetheless, Weisel writes with aplomb and has solid grasp of the genre. A keen sense of redemption pervades, along with elegant echoes of Chandler and MacDonald.
A sophisticated, literary whodunit that proves lives are harder to solve than crimes.