John March (Death’s Little Helpers, 2005, etc.) returns to the crime scene in the third installment of an impressive series.
This time around, private detective John March is hired by his older brother David, a buttoned-up, power-hungry executive. Happily married, self-righteous David, it turns out, is being blackmailed by a one-night-stand he met through a website designed to broker casual sexual encounters. The situation worsens when the woman is found dead and David becomes a suspect in her murder. The two brothers have never been close, and working together exacerbates their contempt for each other. Indeed, investigating the blackmail scheme leads to uncomfortable truths about how manipulative and damaging siblings can be to one another, for the case hinges on a family nearly as unhappy as John March’s. The murdered blackmailer, initially identified only by the tattoo of a red cat, is a young woman using her anonymous tricks to make performance-art films about sexual blackmail. She developed this scheme to quite literally act out her family secrets—just as March’s investigation is organized around protecting his. The book’s premise is certainly inventive—an old plot of sexual intrigue is nestled within a shiny new plot about techno culture—and John March is a worthy heir to the hardboiled detective. The moral landscape of the minor characters is richly drawn, pulsing with petty evils that call to mind the work of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. John March is perhaps less like Philip Marlowe than he is like Bill Smith, S.J. Rozan’s updated Chandleresque detective, but he will doubtless become Smith and Marlowe’s peer in the future.
Gritty atmosphere and clever plotting enhance a fine addition to the noir tradition.