Though his performance as a series hero has been way above average, p.i. Leo Waterman (The Deader the Better, 2000, etc.) has been benched in favor of Frank Corso, a jaundiced journalist of tarnished reputation. Not long ago, Corso was a hotshot with the New York Times, until a sizzler of a story erupted in a fiasco, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the newspaper and walking papers for Corso. Into the breach, however, steps Natalie Van Der Hoven, owner of the Seattle Sun, with a life-saving job offer. Given his second chance, Corso flourishes, becomes a popular columnist, and even writes a true-crime bestseller. The financially strapped Sun benefits, too, but now needs a circulation blockbuster in order to leave red ink behind for good. A serial killer, a death-row vigil, a perjured witness, and relentless, in-your-face Corso deliver the goods. Along the way, love blooms when Corso meets Meg Dougherty, a freelance photographer almost as hardboiled and wisecracking as he is. The story twists and spins, good guys turn out to be bad, bad guys turn out to be awful, and punishment is less likely to fit the crime than the whim of fate. At the end, Corso and Meg, definitely an item, put to sea in Corso’s 51-foot houseboat, suggesting that Leo Waterman’s hiatus has at least one more book to run.
Prose as fine-tuned as ever, though the plot does take a twist or so too many. As for Corso and Meg: they’re rooted firmly in an oh-so-familiar tradition—but welcome nonetheless.