Surprisingly hip insurance-fraud investigators wage war against unscrupulous buyers of policies owned by the soon (occasionally too-soon) to die.
The field of battle in Dooling’s latest (after Brain Storm, 1998, etc.) is Omaha, where insurance companies guard their stupendous holdings against attacks by fake dead people, professional accident victims, and myriad tricksters with their endless versions of calamity. Carver Hartnett, Miranda Pryor, and Lenny Stillnacht comprise the staunch antifraud core at Reliable Allied Trust. They may look like garden-variety technoslackers, and it’s true they ingest ungodly amounts of easily abused substances, but their hearts are pure and they’re sincerely devoted to whacking away at the con artists besetting all great insurance companies. Alas, as they uncover bunk in claim after claim, they sense a shift in corporate strategy as company overlords elect to pay out bogus claims and recoup costs through spiraling premiums rather than through elaborate investigations and the courts. And now Lenny has been fired for his politically incorrect recommendation to blow off 20 claims for 20 identically named Nigerians, even though Nigeria is the world capital of fraud. Within 24 hours, Lenny is found dead, his blood swimming in drugs—and HIV. As it turns out, HIV is the common element in a slew of dicey claims filed by or for Heartland, a purchaser of viaticals, the rather creepy arrangements by which investors, in the dread days before protease inhibitors, purchased life insurance policies from AIDS victims who needed cash in this world rather than the next. Carver, who has lusted for Miranda through bottle after bottle of the splendid wines that are her indulgence, is sure that thoroughly heterosexual Lenny’s death is its own case of fraud. But on whose part? Lenny’s? Heartland’s? Miranda’s? Reliable Allied Trust’s? Complications—and investigations—ensue.
Mostly fun—and agreeably tense now and then—but a bit overwritten, as if crime novels need literary bolstering to be respectable.