Yet again due to the generosity of Karen at Euro Crime, I’ve read another cracker of a book. This one, by Peter Spiegelman, is the third in the John March series. You need to have read the first two in order to enjoy this one fully, but if you haven’t read the predecessors you can still relish a private-eye investigation in the classic mould.
In Black Maps, Spiegelman’s impressive debut, John March is a cop who has left the force after his wife’s murder and his killing of the perpetrator (the full back-story is yet to be revealed). We first meet March, battered and depressed, in the aftermath of these events. He’s independently wealthy, coming from a family of New York bankers, and so takes up detecting more as therapy than out of financial need.
I found March’s second outing, No Way Home, a disappointment, but Spiegelman is back on form in Red Cat. John’s awful brother, David, hires John to find a woman prostitute who is threatening to tell David’s wife, brother (head of the family firm) and the world at large of her liaison with David, hence ruining his marriage, career and life. John takes the case, but David’s boorish behaviour, indicative of his messed-up personality, pushes John’s tolerance to the limit. I shall say no more about the plot, but it’s good, believe me. The author’s habit of starting each chapter on a cliffhanger, then rolling back to how we got there from the point at the end of the chapter before, ensures that the book is a real page-turner.
The main pleasure of this book is the detail of John’s investigation. Patiently, he follows up every lead, interviews everyone connected with the blackmailer, and gradually pieces together her story. It’s a great read; the story of John’s childhood becomes slightly clearer, and we reconnect with his girlfriend from Black Maps, the elusive Clare. Clare is the weakest character in the book, but in this genre of novel (think Jack Reacher, Elvis Cole, Harry Bosch), girlfriends rarely stay the course.
The strength of Red Cat, like Black Maps, is in the parallel levels of detection. There is the actual case that needs solving, but there is also the protagonist’s detection of his own psyche, which includes his coming to terms with what happened to his wife as well as his understanding (still incomplete) of the dynamics of his family while he was a child and in his adult persona, as his relationships with his siblings and their families is tense and fraught. Peter Spiegelman is certainly a worthy inheritor of the Hammett/Chandler mantle.