An attempted patricide goes awry in Starkey’s debut novel of suspense and family ties.
On Dec. 31, 2010, 83-year-old Winston Brickley, the third-richest man in South Carolina, is recovering from heart surgery. Because of the Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act of 2001, the federal estate tax isn’t in effect yet, but new rates will begin the next day. Winston’s hapless son Richard, seeking a huge tax break, concocts a plan to dispose of his father before midnight, with his sister Michelle as a reluctant accomplice. Winston finds out about the plan and turns to his grandson Brett for help. The story starts as a tongue-in-cheek thriller, but lengthy flashbacks to years past distract from the main plot. The novel also focuses on Winston’s son-in-law Lee Brenner, who obsessively reads novels and shirks his work and his wife—to the degree that a therapist creates a new disorder diagnosis just for him. Starkey details the breakup of Brenner’s marriage and career, whose unrealistic solutions to his problems are amusing. However, they’re not as intriguing as Winston’s spry attempts to escape his son’s murder plans. Other characters, such as grifter Harry Shigler, Brett’s school friends and Richard’s wife, flit in and out of the story without making a significant impact. The author tells the story from different characters’ perspectives in an attempt to give each of them discernible personalities, but this breaks the story into far too many chapters. It sometimes confusingly switches between third person and first person, and grows increasingly unfocused as it progresses. Most of the time, however, the matter-of-fact prose is clear, if not particularly memorable.
A quirky debut that ultimately falls flat.