Thursday, December 7, 2023

Murder on Fifth Avenue

 Murder on Fifth Avenue (1998) by Michael Jahn

It's the holiday season in the Big Apple and Captain Bill Donovan is on partial leave--hanging out at the hospital with his wife Marcy, awaiting the birth of their late-in-life son. Marcy is on bedrest due to various complications and a city grateful for Bill's handling of a recent unusual criminal case is more than willing for him to take some time off to take care of his wife. But on the day after Thanksgiving, the dad-to-be is standing in line with the other Black Friday shoppers waiting for a popular toy store to open when shots ring out and a wealthy CEO of an international company is killed while shopping for jewelry for his fiancee. One of the disturbing features of the crime is that Mr. Melmer was shot through an industrial bullet-proof window and the bullets used are from a highly illegal weapon designed specifically for assassins. 

When a stock broker from Connecticut is shot a few days later while shopping in a high-class lingerie store and the bullets match the weapon in the first murder, the Midtown Merchants Association (which represents most of the shopping district on Fifth Avenue) receives a message demanding ten million dollars to stop the killing spree and keep the holiday shopping season merry and bright. Donovan's leave is cancelled and he's told to find the perpetrator(s) pronto. Which isn't going to be easy. In both cases, the shooter was dressed as a "Santa's Angel"--and there are scads of those fellows all up and down Fifth Avenue (and all of downtown Manhattan, for that matter). They seem to be in the bell-ringing, charity line a la the Salvation Army. One or two on every block. 

The message comes from a group calling themselves the "Mountain Brigade"--but are they really the Afghan group of mountain fighters? Or are they a home-grown bunch of radical survivalists from Montana? In the course of his investigation, Donovan learns that Paul Duke, host of one of the New York national morning shows, believes the killer is really out to get him. Is he right and, if so, what is the motive? Could it be that an angry husband is seeking revenge for one of Duke's flings? Especially that Russian mobster? Or maybe it's a woman scorned. But there's also the disgruntled son of Tuttle's (home of the expensive lingerie) who had a bad war in Afghanistan and was edged out of the family business because of his lingering issues from battle (PTSD). He's said to bear a grudge...and he's mighty good with a gun. A third murder helps to clarify the real target of the killer, but Donovan still has to figure identify the killer and the motive.

As I randomly find more entries in Jahn's series, I continue to enjoy the character of Bill Donovan. He's just the right mix of tough-guy cop and intelligent, widely read man--he makes it easy to believe that he just might know something about everything or if he doesn't that he'll soon be reading up on it and have a mastery of the subject. He also manages to convey his knowledge without sounding like a know-it-all. The supporting characters are also good and Bill has excellent interactions with them all. I really like how Marcy tries to keep him in check. They have a good, bantering relationship. Jahn also tells an interesting, fast-paced story that is fun to read. 

There are just a few quibbles with this one. First, I honestly can't believe that Bill would invite all the suspects down to the hospital where it just might put his wife and unborn son in danger. Seriously? Why not gather them all at the the morning news show building since a fair number of them work there or have shops in the area? Second, the ending just didn't land right. I get the motive--but the lead-up didn't make it seem as inevitable as it should be. And there really wasn't enough clues to help the reader get to the right solution. But, this is still an entertaining mystery and I'll be keeping my eye out for the remainder of the series. ★★

First line: Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, was brilliantly sunny but very cold.

Last line: And then he held his son to his heart and limped on


Deaths = three shot

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