Somebody must have changed Stone Barrington’s meds. The studly New York attorney’s latest adventure finds him investigating an actual crime, looking for clues, making inferences, and notching only a single new amorous conquest.
A trio of no-goodniks armed with sledgehammers attack Stone’s Bentley as he and his driver, ex–Royal Marines commando Fred Flicker, wait at a red light. The dunderheads barely damage the armored vehicle, but it turns out that they’ve targeted many other luxury cars, one of them driven by widow Morgan Tillman, whose husband left her a wealthy woman when he fell off their penthouse terrace during a theft by the world’s most enterprising cat burglar. Approached by Morgan, who vents about the attack on her car, Stone takes her to dinner with his old NYPD partner, Police Commissioner Dino Bacchetti; she vents in turn to him; and the car attackers, having ushered Stone and Morgan to the same bed, disappear as completely as the Ford Edsel to make room for Arthur Steele, who tells Stone about Vincent Van Gogh’s very last painting (no, not the one with the crows over the cornfield), which was apparently stolen from the Tillman penthouse at the same time Mark Tillman was killed. Steele’s firm is about to pay Morgan the $60 million for which the painting was insured, but he suspects that it’s actually a consummate forgery by Tillman neighbor Angelo Farina, whose son, Pio, along with his girlfriend, sculptor Ann Kusch, inflame Dino’s suspicions by lying about where they were during the break-in. Steele offers Stone $8 million to recover the painting within the week—an offer Stone, realizing that the payment may have to see him through two or three more heavy-spending installments (Indecent Exposure, 2017, etc.), ups to $12 million before he begins searching for the painting, which passes improbably from one crook to another, each with a more inflated assessment of its true value.
The closest the hero is ever likely to come to old-fashioned detection, though his creator’s heart is clearly more in the chase than the solution.