What’s the first thing you’d do after 35 years in stir? Hire somebody to prove you’re innocent, of course.
Melanie Dart’s father, Indiana state budget director Hugh Dart, was convicted in 1960 of killing his wife. Now he’s older, grayer, and less well connected, but equally steady in claiming he was set up by the alleged victim. Barbara’s not dead, he tells Melanie’s boyfriend, private eye Howie Cross. When Howie’s beaten up by two large, professional thugs, Hugh adds details for Howie’s much older friend and colleague Deets Shanahan. DNA testing couldn’t establish the identity of the burned corpse because it hadn’t been invented yet. And Hugh’s sharpie lawyer, John G. Radiquet, persuaded him that his night with a Terre Haute prostitute would look worse than no alibi at all. Now Hugh, who avers that 35 years was much too long to pay for the “couple million” he admits skimming from the Hoosier budget, wants Howie—and Howie wants Deets—to find Barbara. Supported by his ladylove Maureen, Deets (The Concrete Pillow, 1995, etc.) finds an elaborate network of financial shenanigans rendered moot by the statute of limitations, and present-day violence courtesy of those thugs, but no evidence to support Hugh’s mordant claim that “Barbara isn’t the kind of person to die.”
It’s nice to see Deets still in there pitching, even if this case, which spends too much time among closemouthed nonentities before delivering its climactic surprise, isn’t his finest hour.