A financially strapped advertising executive faces murder charges after a stranger approaches him with a disturbing proposition in Hargreaves’ debut novel.
Jeremy Grey is nursing a drink in a bar when a gray-haired man, watchful of the surveillance monitors, enters. Grey tells the man, “I just don’t think I can do it.” The man appears displeased, inquires about Grey’s son, and tries to convince Jeremy otherwise. When Jeremy hands him back an envelope, the man creates a scuffle, pulling out a gun and then a knife. Grey manages to grab the dropped gun and shoots the man dead. The police soon discover that the victim is District Court Judge Danton Harwell. Grey admits that he knew the man but only as “Bill”; they first met in the hospital, where Grey was visiting his critically ill son. Bill told Grey that he had terminal cancer and would pay Grey to kill him in an arranged self-defense incident so that the man’s sick wife could get insurance money for medical costs. Grey admits he needs funds for his son’s heart transplant and to fight a partner’s power grab of their ad agency, but he was handing back Harwell’s starter payment in the bar. The police believe him, especially as they uncover various discrepancies and oddities in Harwell’s life and judicial dealings. Meanwhile, Grey draws ever closer to assistant Marsha, who has been helping him deal with the recent death of his wife and other son, killed a few weeks before in a car accident. Once Harwell’s will is read, Grey is arrested. When surprisingly allowed out on bail, he finally learns the twisted role Harwell has played in his life. This first novel by Canadian advertising professional Hargreaves has an intriguing Strangers on a Train–type setup and suspenseful sequences of flashbacks and forward-moving activity featuring Grey and several other key players. While the setting of the novel remains a bit hazy (it appears to be Toronto), this investigative puzzle is largely well-paced, much like a Law & Order episode, with a few overly detailed subplot detours before its nifty wrap-up. Overall, an accomplished debut.
A clever, intricately plotted thriller.