Shortly after delivering a collection of valuable 18th-century letters to Ben Frye, a bookstore owner who deals in antiquities, Boston lawyer Brady Coyne gets an urgent summons from the recently paralyzed client who requested the delivery, world-renowned wildlife photographer Walt Duffy, a rugged outdoorsman condemned to a wheelchair by an accident. Greatly concerned about Walt’s depression and his rough treatment of Ethan, his devoted teenaged son, Brady answers his summons only to find Walt dead. Ethan has disappeared; no one at Vintage Vinyl, the record shop where he works, knows where he is; and bristly owner Conrad Henshall sneeringly orders Brady off the premises. Ethan’s absence leaves Brady to take charge of Walt’s galumphing pooch Henry, yielding minor friction and a comic subplot. Another comes from Brady’s banter with Evie, his ladylove, about moving in together. But the tone turns somber when, soon after Brady retrieves the letters from Ben Frye, the bookseller’s burned body is found in the debris of an arson fire. Enter the FBI, explaining that the perps are violent members of the Spotted Owl Liberation Front and doubly suspicious of Brady after he claims that he received an anonymous call tipping him off about the fire. The danger escalates when Brady becomes the unwilling accomplice of the murderer, who threatens to kill Ethan if Brady doesn’t cooperate or talks to the Feds.
The plot’s full of holes, but in his 19th outing (Past Tense, 2001, etc.), Brady is as easygoing as ever, an amiable guide through a credible cast of suspects.