Brady Coyne, a Boston attorney with a wealthy clientele, prefers to avoid the courtroom, handling the wills, divorces, and legal missteps of his clients in the strictest confidence. For his discretion and loyalty, he earns their undying gratitude--and very large checks. When Jimmy D'Ambrosio, a powerful, old-style Boston king-maker, approaches him to investigate the husband of Ellen Stoddard, a woman whose campaign for Senate he is managing, Coyne hires Gordon Cahill, an equally discreet private investigator, to check out Albert Stoddard, a history professor at Tufts University. Within days, however, Cahill is dead in a car crash, and the state police think it may be homicide. When Stoddard himself goes missing, his wife prohibits Coyne from telling the state police and from helping in the investigation of the death of Gordon Cahill, Coyne's friend.
Though there is occasional violence and some tough-as-nails confrontations, the Brady Coyne series offers a unique approach to the detective story. Emphasizing the interrelationships of realistically portrayed characters more than hard-boiled action, author Tapply uses the characters' dialogue with Brady Coyne to give them life. Though some of these characters are easily recognizable local stereotypes, he gives them credibility by mixing these fictional characters with real-life characters. Jimmy D'Ambrosio is fictional, but he is described as having been the campaign manager of the real former mayor, Kevin White, a quintessential Boston politician. The fictional Cahill worked as an undercover state policeman, investigating the Winter Hill Gang, a real gang, one of whose members is on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List. And when Coyne goes to the North End to talk to Vincent Russo, a restaurateur and mob boss, he is talking to a fictional character with roots in real Boston history.
Tapply's folksy narrative style, the honest simplicity of his descriptions, and the incorporation of local color from Boston and the woodlands of southern New Hampshire, give the novel a breadth and "charm" missing from more action-oriented series. Relatively simple in its presentation and style, the mystery is also simple, and while the reader will probably be surprised by one plot twist at the end, the chances are that s/he will not be very surprised by the ultimate solution to the mystery. The reading of the novel is so pleasurable, however, and the dialogue and interaction of the characters are so much fun to observe that I will gladly trade "shock and awe" for good, old-fashioned story-telling like this, anyday. Mary Whipple