Lansing’s latest thriller (The Devil’s Necktie, 2015, etc.), the third outing for Jack Bertolino, finds the private investigator searching for a killer whose assassination of a known criminal results in a child’s accidental death.
Toby Dirk’s decision to take out drug dealer Tomas Vegas sniper-style isn’t what puts Jack on the case. It’s the stray bullet that kills 6-year-old Maria Sanchez. Former NYPD detective Jack is already in Los Angeles, his prior tussle with kidnappers and sex traffickers providing the basis for the currently in-production film Done Deal. He’s technical adviser to the movie’s star, Susan Blake, but also acting as bodyguard; a stalker followed the actress from New York. Toby, meanwhile, comes from a family of lawbreakers, with him and older brothers Terrence and Sean running a store to launder dirty money. They dabble in various illicit deeds, including stealing drugs and cash from other dealers. But Jack’s suspicion that the Vegas hit was personal may be spot-on: Toby doesn’t tell his brothers that he was the shooter. When Toby executes a second solo murder, Jack may find a way to link the deaths to the Dirk brothers. The other investigation’s complicated enough, with Jack fairly certain Susan is lying about not knowing the stalker’s identity. But if he gets any closer to unraveling the Dirks’ criminal enterprise, Jack could be the next victim. The protagonist’s working two separate cases ultimately proves beneficial to the story. Lansing takes them in vastly different directions, one built on mystery (details on the stalker are largely unknown), the other on suspense (readers are fully aware of how dangerous the Dirks are). There’s likewise perspective from the baddies, who occasionally commit murders together, while Jack and Susan’s physical relationship, coupled with his ex-wife, Jeannine, suddenly showing up at his door, is a delightful soapy turn. Stellar supporting characters range from legal-advising friend/lawyer Tommy Aronsohn to computer genius Cruz Feinberg, who uses his hacking skills to great effect. And though the private eye’s rugged looks attract the ladies, his frankness is most appealing: “I’ll take [someone] down because he’s a scumbag,” he says. “But I won’t kill him. Because I’m not.”
The laudable protagonist once again guides readers through a robust detective story.