Schwartz’s (Point Sal, 2008, etc.) latest legal mystery pits attorney-cum-comedian Tom McGuire against the Russian Mafia and U.S. federal agents trafficking in illegally imported caviar.
Tom McGuire is content to work as a lawyer, dabble in stand-up comedy, and live with his girlfriend, Maria, on a boat in Marina del Rey, Calif. However, when a strange man with a Russian accent threatens Maria during one of Tom’s comedy performances, Tom reacts by smashing a bottle into the man’s head. The ensuing investigation, involving LAPD officers and FBI agents, reveals that the man is indeed Russian, has Mafia connections and is suspected of smuggling caviar into the United States; the caviar’s contraband, as it comes from an endangered species of sturgeon. Meanwhile, Tom is also busy keeping an eye on his neighbor, Murray, a former gambler whose friend and business associate, Hersh, often devises moneymaking schemes of dubious legality. These two disparate groups eventually converge in a way no one, not even Tom, expects. The plot may sound a bit complicated, and it is. However, Schwartz reins in his story with humor, skillfully employing stand-up comedy to provide a respite from the more elaborate elements; he also provides an inside look at a vocation that can be humbling yet strangely addicting for those who pursue it. Schwartz populates his story with satisfyingly realistic main characters, but readers don’t really get to know the minor players, such as clever, witty, Harley-riding Maria. The intricate technical elements of the story, which include details about everything from shell corporations to boating, slow the pace considerably; for example, one speech from a press conference takes up nearly four pages. In such instances, readers may find themselves skimming to get back to the characters and humor Schwartz does best.
An entertaining mystery with complex characters but a sometimes-arduous plot.