I opened this book, which pits a nearly starving writer against powerful Mexican drug cartels, with fairly high expectations. Although it's the first I've read by the author, I've been meaning to try one of his popular Nick Heller books. So when the opportunity arose to get this one, I jumped at it even though a number of reviewers said it's not one of Finder's best efforts.
The story begins as Danny Goodman, who has had custody of his teenage daughter Abby since his ex-wife's untimely death from cancer, finds himself unable to pay the tuition for her swanky private school. Then, the father of Abby's best school buddy, Jenna - who's filthy rich and wanting to keep his daughter happy as well - insists on lending $50,000 to Danny so he can keep his daughter in school. Danny is reluctant to accept, but after Abby throws tantrum after tantrum at the notion that she'll have to go to a "regular" school, he accepts - with every intention of paying it back.
But almost to the minute the money is transferred to Danny's account, he gets a visit from a couple of DEA agents, who inform him that he's accepted drug money. His only choice, they insist, is accepting an undercover assignment that will help the government nail Danny's new family friend and benefactor. If he doesn't, they threaten to indict him for accepting the money - and make it clear it's a fight he can neither afford to undertake nor win in court.
Danny also is forced to lie to his remarkably young psychiatrist girlfriend, Lucy, as well as Abby and his rich friend as he undertakes his assignments - a couple of which would mean, were he caught - possible torture and death and, perhaps, the same to Abby and Lucy. But as one might expect, nothing is as simple as it seems; as he manages to pull off one assignment after the other, Danny also uncovers far more than just drug deals - information that puts everyone involved in a whole different (and in some cases, more deadly) light.
The story moves quickly, and it's certainly not lacking in excitement. So why just 3 stars? First, some of the things that happen stretched the limits of my imagination a little too much; and second, there are too many little glitches. While I can't reveal some because it would spoil things for other readers, I offer a few examples:
Abby also had a stepfather, and it was he, and Abby's late mother, who put her in the school and willingly paid the hefty $16,000-per-semester tuition. After the mother's death, if the stepfather was a jerk who refused to continue paying the tuition (admittedly, Abby didn't care much for him), it should have been noted.
I know teenagers are prone to whining - my two long-since-grown children once were that age, for goodness sake. In fact, my daughter and I still laugh at my refusal to buy her a third pair of Jordache jeans back in the '70s because they cost $42 - a small fortune back then. But I know plenty of folks who have had to pull their kids out of private schools when the economy tanked, and it's really hard to believe Danny was unable to say no just because Abby had a hissy fit (she had another one because she doesn't have a smartphone, but that's another story...)
Despite being almost totally broke, Danny cracks open a bottle of Sancerre at home with his girlfriend. For the record, the least expensive bottle of the brand I could find online is about $20 - and even that is about twice what my husband and I are willing to pay for a bottle. Still, I accepted it - or assumed that Lucy had bought it for them - until I learned how embarrassed Danny was over having to take an under-$10 bottle from Trader Joe's to his richer-than-God friend as a gift. Hey, buddy, I'd have drunk the Trader Joe's myself and given him the Sancerre.
At one point, Danny is forced by the DEA to slip out of the swanky private home in Aspen where he's a guest of the rich guy and walk in the cold about half an hour at 6 a.m. If he's caught, he's supposed to claim he needed coffee. Excuse me, but this house stocks enough cross-country skis to outfit half the country - God forbid any of the guests would have to rent - but there's no coffeepot? Yeah, sure, I'd believe that alibi.
The rich friend's daughter is said to be vulnerable because she has no driver's license. So how is it that, a couple of chapters later, she's driving around and around the block looking for a parking place?
Anyway, you get the idea. By the end, I was having so much fun finding little inconsistencies like these that I almost didn't care what happened to the characters. Still, the book is worth reading and held my attention (even if sometimes for the wrong reason), and I'm still planning to start working on those Heller books when I get a chance.
Suspicion by Joseph Finder (Dutton Adult, May 2014); 401 pp.