“I’m not a p.i.,” insists Frank Cole, and it’s a good thing he isn’t, or his first case couldn’t have won the 2005 Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Best First Traditional Mystery Contest.
When his computer firm became a casualty of the dot-com bubble and the vultures began circling for his assets, Frank Cole declared bankruptcy. But that didn’t stop a self-righteous judge from attaching his wages indefinitely. So Frank moved to Exile, Fla., and vowed to stay so close to the poverty line that there’d be nothing to attach. He makes the odd dollar doing background checks for insurance companies till one of these jobs turns very odd indeed: the hit-and-run accident that left jogger Edward Gonzalez dead. Dim Harvey Webster wants Frank to dig up dirt that’ll allow Sun Provident Assurance to deny the claim on the life-insurance policy Eddie just took out. But Frank soon decides that there’s nothing suspicious about the claim except that (1) it’s likely that the wrong guy was killed by the stolen SUV, and (2) somebody clearly wants him to drop the matter before he can find out anything else.
The detection is more dogged than inspired, and O’Neil is so determined to steer clear of fireworks that the case is kind of a snoozer. But Frank’s an appealing hero—a younger, more upbeat version of Stuart Kaminsky’s Lew Fonesca—and it would be great to see more of him.