A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN
Take a group of 31 men in their 20s. How many of them would you expect to die over the next 30 years? Lewis Hildebrand, one of the 1961 matriculants to the generations-old Club of 31 (rumored earlier members: Newton, Mozart, Franklin) whose sole purpose is to meet once a year to memorialize their dead and wait until their last surviving member can appoint 30 new fellows, thinks that 17 fatalities is entirely too many. So he hires unlicensed PI Matthew Scudder to determine whether and why somebody may be eliminating every member of the club. There's no obvious motive--no residual legacy, nothing the victims all had in common--and no obvious starting point for Scudder's investigations. But his patient legwork soon convinces him that several accidents, suicides, and murders blamed on other suspects are the work of a single dedicated individual who strikes again the day after 9 of the 14 surviving members meet. Working in a vein of contemplative tranquillity poles apart from his earlier savagery, Scudder manages to identify the killer and mete out condign punishment. Unfortunately, the autumnal acceptance of mortality Scudder's been moving toward in his recent outings (The Devil Knows You're Dead, 1993, etc.) works against both mystery and suspense this time, though Scudder's many fans won't want to miss his ritual Nunc Dimittis.