In this thriller, a dying man hires private investigator Bertrand McAbee to find the whereabouts of his brother, missing for nearly 30 years.
ALS–stricken Patrick McNulty, with a mere month to live, needs help. The wealthy Fort Lauderdale, Florida, man contacts his former professor McAbee, now a private eye in Davenport, Iowa. McNulty wants to know what happened to his long-lost brother, Francis. Three years before his 1987 disappearance, Francis publicly “went over” at a Rotary Club meeting, humiliating his affluent father, Liam, by renouncing the material world. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, he devoted his life to assisting those in need before suddenly vanishing. An anonymous package containing a plush wolf (an apparent reference to St. Francis) convinces Patrick his brother’s alive, but the consensus among friends and associates is quite the opposite. McAbee and colleagues at his agency, including hacker Barry Fisk and ex-cop Augusta Satin, scour Francis’ history for clues. They may catch a break when they notice a possible link to the kidnapping/murder of young Bobby White, occurring around the same time that Francis disappeared. McAbee’s search takes him to Italy for just a sign of Francis, dead or alive, so that the detective can hopefully bring solace to a man on the verge of death. The story is dense with information, with McAbee and Augusta interviewing a plethora of characters, most of whom offer little insight into Francis’ fate. McAbee acknowledges the occasional repetitiveness: “I’ve heard many stories like this about him,” he relates, following a lengthy discussion about Francis. Pertinent evidence, however, does eventually accumulate, like some who are sure Francis had money stashed somewhere, leading to a worthy wrap-up. McCaffrey (A Case of Silver, 2013, etc.) keeps his mystery simple and, despite parallelism between McAbee the skeptic and Francis the believer, doesn’t saturate the story with religious allegory. Back in Davenport, meanwhile, there’s drama––Barry seems to hate everyone, most particularly McAbee’s secretary, Pat Trump, (a mutual animosity)––as well as humor, like Augusta designating this case as decidedly less dangerous than usual.
In his 10th outing, a steadfast gumshoe proves he can handle anything, even a story with a leisurely pace.