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CODA by Tom Topor



Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Scribners

A considerable improvement over N.Y. shamus Kevin Fitzgerald's debut in Bloodstar (1978)--even if the plot winds up in a contrived CIA tangle, even if narrator Kevin still goes in for pretentious broodings about love, pain, commitment, etc. At the urging of journalist-girlfriend Fiona, Kevin takes on elderly waitress Lilli Weill as a client: Holocaust survivor Lilli is sure that she has caught glimpses on N.Y. streets of her husband Max--a great pianist, presumed dead since 1945! Could he possibly still be alive? Kevin talks to various slimy government officials--who insist that Max is dead, that Kevin's inquiry might prove embarrassing to the US government. (Did the US execute Max by mistake?) Nonetheless he persists, getting a tiny clue from one of Max's old friends, a fellow-player in the Auschwitz orchestra--who is soon a suicide (?). The clue leads to an ex-Juilliard student (did she study with Max?), to the Lower East Side, to piano-movers and piano-tuners and at last to Max himself--who has been a sex-obsessed, semi-willing CIA pawn for decades. So, after Kevin manages to arrange a Max/Lilli reunion, there'll be a hectic, violent finale--with the kidnap of Lilli, car-chases, ruthless spies on both sides. . . and a doubly downbeat fadeout. Despite the overheated conclusion, some stagey dialogue, and Kevin's self-indulgence: a half-absorbing investigation--enhanced by rich minor characters (e.g., the black ex-Juilliard pianist) and the Lower East Side deduction-trail.