A private detective suspects his client of murder
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“A Kind Worth Saving,” by Peter Swanson (William Morrow)
Henry Kimball failed as a poet, washed out as a school teacher and screwed up so badly as a policeman that he got fired. Now, as Peter Swanson’s new thriller, “The Kind Worth Saving,” opens, Henry is trying to establish himself as a private detective.
To his subsequent misfortune, Joan Whalen walks though his office door looking for someone to tail her husband, a real estate salesman who she believes is having an affair with one of his colleagues. Joan’s first words to Henry: “Do you remember me?”
It takes him a moment to place her. Years ago, when he was teaching high school English, she was one of his students. She was in his classroom when a surly loner pulled out a gun, shot a classmate to death, and then turned the gun on himself.
Something about Joan makes Henry uneasy, but he takes the case and promptly does something stupid. He strikes up a conversation with the other woman, hoping to get her to admit the affair, and ends up sleeping with her.
Later, when he trails the cheating couple to a vacant house where they had been meeting for sex, he hears gunshots, bursts inside, and finds both shot to death. Police declare it a murder-suicide, but Henry can’t shake the feeling that Joan is somehow responsible. Before the bodies are discovered, however, the author introduces a series of flashbacks in which Joan and the future school shooter meet at an ocean-side resort and hatch a plan to murder Richard’s teenage cousin. The complex, twist-filled plot then follows young Joan and Richard as she manipulates him into killing people she resents, and Henry as he tries to prove that grown-up Joan was responsible for the love-nest murder.
The story draws heavily on events and characters from Swanson’s 2015 novel, “A Kind Worth Killing.” For those who read and still remember the earlier book, the new novel may work well, but others are likely to feel lost at times. The problem becomes acute toward the end when a character named Lily appears out of nowhere and virtually takes over the role of protagonist. In the earlier book, when Henry was still a cop, he investigated Lily for murdering two people, fell in love with her, got stabbed for his trouble, and decided to let her get away with her crimes anyway. To readers unfamiliar with the previous novel, Lily’s role the new book can be difficult to swallow.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”