Heavy-hitter Clarkson whacks a two-bagger rather than cleaning the plates as usual.
The first half perennially promises thrills ahead, and though action does erupt somewhere past the midway point, it’s a salvage job on forced plotting. Forensic account investigator Bill Reed, an FBI agent trained in proving fraud, retires and opens his own far more lively fraud-investigation agency. Reed loses a leg in a Manhattan motorcycle accident on page one, then spends six months depressed, drinking, and letting his staff run his agency while he adjusts to various prosthetics. Then he gets a mysterious letter filled with numbers. It’s supposedly from his cousin, John Boyd Reed, a Down’s syndrome patient at the upstate Ullmann Institute. Alerted that something fishy is going on, Bill drives up to the Institute, forces his way in to his cousin’s bedside. Clarkson (New Lots, 1998, etc.) lines up his heavies, hospital helpers who brutalize John, and slathers on hints that fists and bullets will fly. While unctuous villain Mathew Ullmann alludes and alludes to criminal activity at his institute while talking with his wife, passing these allusions on to the hero puts Clarkson at an impasse. Reed can only intuit fraud and become engaged as an investigator after being roughed up by four hospital thugs, though he defends himself well with his crutch. One wonders what Reed is up to when he orders his best staff member to send him his guns and laptop. Now heavily armed and with a big sidekick as backup, Reed wades into . . . his laptop, setting in motion a complete investigation of Ullmann’s finances. To be sure, plenty of aggression takes place in later chapters, but Clarkson only goes through the motions. The story’s true interest lies in fraud investigation, not bullets.
Well researched, but this time Clarkson might better have taken a page from James M. Cain’s insurance classic, Double Indemnity. Waspish words grip where bullets only thud.