Review: Arthur Cathcart returns home one day from a quick trip to the post office to find his wife being held at gunpoint. After he is seated next to his wife, the man with the gun hands her a sheet of paper, requesting she fill in the blanks and sign it. When she hesitates, he shoots Arthur in the leg. She does what is asked of her, and the gunman promptly shoots her through the head, and proceeds to do the same with Arthur. Except the bullet miraculously doesn't kill Arthur, but does render him unconscious to the point of being apparently dead to the man. When Arthur awakens in the hospital, he realizes he has an opportunity to remain dead — at least to the rest of the world — and find out who killed his wife in Dead Anyway, a stand-alone crime novel by Chris Knopf.
Arthur has a number of things going for him. His sister is a physician, one of only three people who know he survived the attack. She is also the only heir to his estate, giving him an immediate source of funds to plan his revenge. Once she has certified his official "death", he proceeds to obtain a false identity, something that he finds surprisingly easy to do. The fact that he was a forensic private investigator that specialized in the use of modern technology and analytics certainly helped. Though his initial focus is on who killed his wife — and attempted to kill him — there is also the unanswered question: what was on that sheet of paper that was worth killing for?
Dead Anyway is an intricately crafted, superbly plotted novel. It's hard — probably impossible — to say much more than what's been said without giving away too much of what happens, so suffice it to say this is a most entertaining storyline. Too, the author is a master at wordsmithing, both in dialog and narrative. Here are a couple of examples of both from early in the book:
Arthur has assumed a new identity but is, of course, still himself and needs help in order to accomplish his goals. When asked to identify himself to someone he's made an "acquaintance" with, he says …
Not sure, to tell you the truth. The concept of identity has become an abstraction. I'm not sure I still have what you'd call a conventional mental state. And my behavior seems propelled more by veiled compulsions than conscious deliberation.
A bit later, he still despairs the situation he finds himself in …
So when sleep came it was not so much a solace as a suspension of time, a bridge from the gloom of night to the eternal darkness that enveloped my soul.
Readers may pause at such passages, just to marvel at how well they are written.
As good as Dead Anyway is — and make no mistake about it, this is a fine crime novel — there are still a few problems with the book that just can't be wished away. Most significant is that everything is far too easy for Arthur. Yes, he's clever and resourceful and his plan is brilliant, but nothing ever goes wrong for him. There's a minor incident in a parking lot, but it hardly makes a ripple in the overall scheme of things. There's a fine line between credible fiction and incredible fiction, and this one straddles it. Arthur also falls too fast and too hard for Natsumi Fitzgerald, a casino blackjack dealer. The fact that she plays right into his plans seems more like a plot convenience than anything else. Furthermore, Arthur takes advantage of almost all of his contacts, betraying them left and right, and is never taken to task for it. And finally, the ending is unexpectedly abrupt, leaving lots of unanswered questions. None of these issues should prevent one from reading this otherwise excellent novel, but it's slightly disappointing that they are even worth noting.
Acknowledgment: The Permanent Press provided an ARC of Dead Anyway for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), June 2012
ISBN-13: 9781250005175; ISBN-10: 1250005175
Location(s) referenced in Dead Anyway: Connecticut
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Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Publication Date: September 2012
List Price: $28.00