Private eye Max Christian helps a friend who’s running for Congress and enters a seedy world of murder, drugs, and politics in Goldman’s (The Last Minstrel Show, 2012, etc.) latest thriller.
Max’s newest case seems like an easy one at first. His friend, Edith Clift, is eyeing a congressional seat, so she hires him to follow her husband, Henry. She knows that Henry is cheating on her, but she wants proof in order to convince him to remain loyal until the election’s over. But things quickly get hairy: Max finds out that Henry has links to a Guatemalan company, which, in turn, has ties to a mob family. What’s more, Henry becomes a potential murder suspect when a singer he knows is killed. Meanwhile, Edith’s opponent, I.M. Trubble, lives up to his name; his negative ads lead Max to dig up dirt on Trubble while he searches for a killer. Despite the murder investigation, this novel is chiefly a political thriller. This works in the book’s favor, as Edith’s case is more engaging, with its Mafia-style hitmen and scandalous secrets. The bubbling campaign war, too, is intense and rightly described by Max as “ugly.” Indeed, Max isn’t even officially investigating the murder case but simply conferring with the lead investigator, his former New York Police Department partner Tina Falcone. There aren’t many suspects and no real surprises in either case, but there’s resolution across the board. Max is a whimsical protagonist with a freight of eccentricities; he partly takes Edith’s case in order to reunite with his estranged wife, Meridew, who’s Edith’s best friend; and he only has two-thirds of a right ear due to a shootout years ago and which everyone suggests should be “fixed up.” His most notable quirk, however, is the fact that he has frequent conversations with French writer and philosopher Albert Camus. Max calls him a ghost, but Goldman smartly keeps the interactions ambiguous; they could just as well be playing out in Max’s head. Their talks are often humorous—Max disguises one of them by holding a BlackBerry to his ear while in a crowded elevator—but they’re never quite as entertaining as the discussions Max has with the charmingly cynical Tina.
Precarious politics take precedence over murder in this striking genre entry.