Timothy Arden, an oil-rich patriarch who made his fortune in Tulsa before decamping to Manhattan to spend it, dies by apparently natural means. But odd circumstances, including a $10,000 check ostensibly made out by Arden to his personal secretary, lead Inspector Christopher McKee to suspect foul play. An autopsy bears out that hunch: It was chloroform poisoning that caused the tycoon’s dark, ungenerous heart to fail. Suspicion falls on the secretary, George Benson, whose bland front conceals a criminal past. Then Benson, too, succumbs to poisoning. McKee’s working theory is that a hidden hand drove the secretary to kill, before killing him in turn. But whose hand was it?
The “line-up” of the title refers to the standard perp-identification routine, practiced by police everywhere (a highlight of this book is Reilly‘s doting descriptions of NYPD procedure), yet it might as well describe the long train of potential murderers who file their way indistinguishably through McKee’s investigation. There are characters aplenty here, but very little characterization. Even McKee lacks the clear contours that enable other fictional detectives to catch and hold readerly interest. A smartly conceived puzzle does lie in wait for him, however, and he does unravel it, after a lot of harum-scarum action of the “Had I But Known” sort. What Reilly does best, meanwhile, is to evoke time and place. Setting her tale during the week that spans Christmas, 1933, she directs McKee across snow-covered Gotham streets—from a luxury apartment hotel near Washington Square to an Upper East Side sanitarium for the worried wealthy, and to seedier parts beyond.