In Van Vlear’s debut mystery, a golf caddy takes a swing at amateur detection after his friend is murdered.
When Buddy Franks is found dead in his hotel room with a golf ball lodged in his throat, all signs point to foul play. Police suspect his wife, Linda, who asks caddy Shank MacDuff to help clear her name. But Shank ends up exposing buried secrets—including Buddy’s gambling woes and a hefty insurance payment. He soon finds himself pursued by more than a few shifty characters who are willing to kill a meddlesome caddy. Shank is an unquestionably intriguing protagonist; he’s completely deaf in his left ear because of an old injury and has a sleep disorder which causes him to get, at best, three hours of sleep a night. He’s so interesting, in fact, that the author sometimes devotes entire chapters to his lead character—referencing such details as Shank’s past FBI training at Quantico, Va., and the story of a lost love. While such chapters are diverting, they often don’t move the plot forward; indeed, they threaten to supersede the mystery story entirely. However, Shank himself keeps the story in check, as he proves to be a creditable detective; he recognizes mistakes almost as soon as he makes them, treats everyone as a suspect—including the woman who hires him—and, at one point, even makes a spreadsheet of what he’s learned. Van Vlear appealingly maintains a cynical, Chandler-esque tone throughout—a gunshot’s “sound was bad, [its] results worse”—and the story’s big reveal is neither obvious nor convoluted.
A solid introduction to a Sherlock of the links that ably sets up a sequel.