Arriving home at their Upper West Side brownstone from the opening concert in the Mostly Mozart series, attorney Byrne Hollander and his writer wife Susan encounter a pair of burglars who leave them dead. It’s the most commonplace sort of murder imaginable, and everybody’s more than ready to call it closed when forensic evidence implicates a pair of skells found dead in a rundown Brooklyn apartment—everybody, that is, but once-again-unlicensed private eye Matthew Scudder. Maybe Scudder’s brooding too much because his ex-wife just died, but there’s something about the case that whispers setup to him. His assistant TJ—whose Columbia classmate Lia Parkman, Susan’s niece, wonders whether the Hollanders’ daughter and wealthy heiress Kristin mightn’t have had them killed—eggs him on, and soon he’s turned up not only some telltale loose ends in the tightly wound skein of evidence against the late Carl Ivanko and Jason Bierman, but a paying client: Kristin Hollander, who’s reached pretty much the same conclusion as her cousin, though not of course down to identifying the same perp. Continuing to ask questions even as the killer realizes he’s under suspicion, Scudder unearths a plot as diabolical as it is far-fetched, and a lot less resonant than the nefarious schemes of Even the Wicked (1997) and Everybody Dies (1998).
Second-drawer Scudder is still Scudder, but despite the high body count, this battle of wits lacks the somber view of mortality that makes his best work so powerful—right down to the final chapter, which strongly hints at a rematch.