Brady Coyne, attorney-at-law and problem fixer to the wealthy, is not a private eye, but he might as well be one. Lonely bachelor lifestyle? Check. A nubile secretary with whom he has a tension-filled relationship? Check. A friend in law enforcement who serves up equal portions of inside dope and dramatically convenient advice to “be careful”? Check. A jaundiced view of the well-heeled clientele on whose custom he depends? Check. True, unlike a PI, Coyne doesn’t carry a gun. (He’s happiest, as he repeatedly points out, when he has a fishing rod or a 5-iron in his hand.) Yet, in this début case, he plainly follows in the footsteps of all the great fictional gumshoes who preceded him.
Florence Gresham, a flinty Brahmin crone, hires Coyne to investigate the apparent suicide of her son George; many years earlier, she had enlisted the lawyer to determine the fate of her other son, Winchester, whom the Army had declared “killed in action” in Vietnam. George, a scholarly type who taught at a private school on Boston’s North Shore, had little in common with his warrior brother, but as Coyne interviews his colleagues at the school and delves into his life there, signs emerge of a possible connection between the deaths of the two Gresham men. As a narrator, Coyne keeps up a steady line of pleasing patter, and for most of the book’s length his story goes down as steady, pleasing entertainment. Then the plot, in its final sequence of revelations, begins to clank and sputter. The ostensibly least-likely suspect quickly becomes all too “likely,” and the unveiling of that person’s culpability comes not with a bang, but with a slow ebbing-away of interest.