Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Murder on the Waterfront

Murder on the Waterfront (2001) by Michael Jahn once again finds Captain Bill Donovan of the NYPD hard at work solving a murder-by-unusual-method amongst the rich, famous, and (this time) political elite. Bill and his wife Marcie are not exactly thrilled when he is deputized to stand in for the mayor at a fundraising dinner for presidential hopeful Pete Bennett. Their liberal Democratic ways don't exactly mesh with the Southern Republican's interests. There are two pluses to the event--one, it takes place on the Trinidad Princess and Bill's sea-faring roots are happy find him walking the deck of a liner even if it is docked on the Hudson River. And, two, he and Marcy spot the Sevastopol Trader tied up alongside. The Trader belongs to an old friend, Dennis Yeager, and is known for its swinging parties. Sure enough, they spy fashion models slinking back and forth along the deck.

Bennett's campaign manager, Rob Ingram latches on to Donovan and asks him for an insider's take on the hottest spots to hit while he's in town. Bill and Marcy each throw him a few curve balls, suggesting a gay bar and crashing Yeager's party, respectively, but they never expect the conservative politico to actually show up on the Trader. And after joining the party themselves, being shown a wicked-looking whaler's mincing knife, and heading home in the early hours, Donovan doesn't expect the phone to ring at dawn with the news that Ingram has been found on Yeager's boat--stabbed to death by that same mincing knife.

He soon finds that the campaign manager hasn't been surging in the popularity polls. A long list of suspects includes one of the supermodels, who is a former lover whom Ingram had sent to the hospital through his abusive ways; a videographer, who has been in jail once for his involvement in a previous crime); the owner of a modeling agency, who might have stood to lose profits if Ingram came back into the life of her model; Bennett's wife, with whom Ingram had been having an affair; Bennett himself, who may have needed to get rid of the campaign manager playing hanky-panky with his wife; a mysterious man posing as a model at Yeager's party; and various environmentalists (including Yeager) who may have had a grudge against the part-owner of a ship suspected of toxic dumping.

Jahn's story walks a fine line between police procedural and classic mystery plot. There is plenty of following Donovan, Moskowitz, and company around as they bag up evidence and interrogate witnesses. But there is also a fairly small group of suspects giving this a closed circle feel even though it does take place on the waterfront of the Big Apple. And Donovan gives us the standard Golden Age wrap-up scene where he points the finger at each suspect before revealing the true culprit.  All-in-all, a satisfactory read. ★★

First line: Donovan hated the new look of the Hudson River waterfront, which was trending toward upscale eateries and scrubbed tourist attractions, not the least of which was the pastel and crystal palace of a cruise liner called the Trinidad Princess.

Last line: "Play with your son," Marcy said, and that's just what Donovan did, sitting with the little boy on the blanket and picking up the plastic chicken that had found its way, on its side, dangerously, into the corral with the cows, and putting her safely back into her nest.

Deaths = one (stabbed)

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