Peter Spiegelman is not a prolific writer, at least by today's one-book-per-year standard. In the past six years he has published three books --- BLACK MAPS, DEATH'S LITTLE HELPERS and now RED CAT --- at two-year intervals, just long enough that the readership could almost forget the razor sharpness and clarity of the craftsmanship exhibited in his prior work. There is simply no way, however, that anyone reading RED CAT will ever forget about him. This is a towering work, an instant classic of noir fiction, that establishes Spiegelman's position as the master of the genre for our time.
John March is Spiegelman's damaged Everyman --- an underachiever by the standards of his financially successful family --- who, as Spiegelman has subtly informed his readers over the course of three novels, is probably more intelligent than all of them put together. March is a quietly roiling mass of contradictions, a man who ultimately is unsuccessful at relationships whether it be with family, friends or lovers, but is intrigued by the machinations and interactions of individuals. His vocation as a private investigator in New York City provides him with plenty of grist to mill. Yet even he is surprised when his latest client turns out to be his outwardly superior brother, David, a successful merchant banker who is on the brink of losing everything he holds dear.
David, it seems, has a hobby that consists of conducting a series of affairs with women he meets over the Internet. The affairs are generally passionate, if short-lived, with everyone being very adult and sophisticated about their eventual termination. But then comes Wren, a mysterious woman who has provided David with sexual encounters unlike any he has previously experienced. When David seeks to discontinue the relationship, however, Wren begins calling his office and home, and sends him emails asking to see him and threatening to tell his wife about their trysts. David wants John to find Wren and warn her off, a task made difficult by the fact that David doesn't know where Wren lives or even what her real name is.
With a bit of dogged work, John is able to uncover Wren's identity and, with some more determination, finds her apartment. The apartment seems to be a dead end, even as he discovers that the woman his brother knows as Wren is an actress, a playwright and, most significantly, a pornographer. Everything changes, though, when a body that appears to be Wren's surfaces in the East River. John realizes that the trail of Wren's murderer leads directly back to David's door and that he needs to unravel all of Wren's secrets, even as he must face uncomfortable truths about David and himself.
RED CAT is a dark, brooding work, full of secrets, shame and desperation in even the most unexpected corners. Spiegelman's New York is full of shadows and sorrows, where survival at the end of the day passes for a grim happiness. His clarity of language and vision is such, however, that one cannot resist looking again and again at what is being lost and, in rare cases, being found. This is a book that simply cannot and should not be missed.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub