Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The Last Refuge introduces Chris Knopf's sleuth, Sam Acquillo, a former engineer (and former boxer) who has left his marriage and his job to drink himself to death at his parents' cottage in The Hamptons, not the cheeriest premise of mysteries I've encountered. But even in the depths of his depression, Acquillo has a sharp wit that makes the reader hope that solving the mystery will force him out of his self-imposed exile back into the land of the living. He finds the body of his elderly neighbor, Regina Broadhurst, in her house, and his engineer's mind registers that something is not quite right about the police assumption of accidental death. No one else is eager to launch an investigation, but Acquillo, who has nothing but time on his hands, starts poking around, drawing someone's attention--someone with the money to hire a goon to intimidate him. Acquillo also begins something of a flirtation with a married woman who works at his bank, renews an old friendship with a rich lawyer, and begins an odd friendship with a police officer who is unconvinced by Sam's suspicions but unable to dismiss them. The plot is tight, the dialogue snappy, and best of all, the venue of The Hamptons is sharply drawn, giving a realistic picture of the tensions between the rich summer people and the locals who both loathe and depend on them. Lucky for me (and you), there are three more Sam Acquillo mysteries: Two Time, Head Wounds, and the forthcoming Hard Stop. I'd recommend this series to anyone looking for a compulsively readable character study, complex mystery, and believable portrayal of The Hamptons.