Peter Spiegelman won the 2004 Shamus Award for Best First Novel
with BLACK MAPS, which introduced not only Spiegelman but also his
creation --- emotionally complicated New York City private
investigator John March --- to the world. March is not cut from the
rumpled knight-errant mold that most of his colleagues and peers,
past and present, spring from. He is a bit of a fashion plate
(without being metrosexual), he doesn't have to worry about money
coming in (thanks to a trust fund), and his clients are more white
shoe than downtrodden. On a crime fiction scale, March is closer to
Amos Burke than Mike Hammer. Yet Spiegelman has somehow infused his
narrative with an upper crust noir that is both credible and
Spiegelman continues his March mythos with DEATH'S LITTLE HELPERS.
March is retained to ascertain the whereabouts of one Gregory
Danes, a Wall Street analyst whose television presence and
reputation rose, and then fell, with the fortunes of the market.
Danes, presently best known for his obnoxiousness and
tenaciousness, has been attempting to restore his financial bona
fides. When he suddenly disappears, it is noteworthy how few people
notice and how even fewer care. It is Nina Sachs, Danes's ex-wife,
who oddly enough retains March to find Danes. Her concern is
ostensibly motivated by the sudden cessation of her alimony
payments from Danes. Yet their already acrimonious relationship was
further complicated by legal action Danes initiated against her,
thus making it somewhat unlikely that she would care about Danes's
March pursues a twisted trail that takes him from the boardrooms of
Wall Street to the boiler rooms of New Jersey, yet every lead he
follows raises more questions. He is disturbed to learn that
someone else also appears to be pursuing Danes; given that Danes
left tangled strings of deception, business betrayals and family
difficulties in his wake, it is doubtful that March's opposite
number wishes Danes, or March, well.
Meanwhile, March is dealing with the intricacies of his
relationship with Jane Lu, his neighbor and lover, attempting to
maintain a comfortable distance from long-term commitment while
being inexorably drawn to it, even as his search for Danes moves
toward an uncertain and potentially dangerous conclusion.
Throughout, Spiegelman creates a quiet cerebral tension that relies
more upon drama than violence to propel the narrative. The man's
powers of description are marvelous; while he does not infuse his
narrative with the detail of a Faulkner or McCarthy, he will spend
a page or so describing a room or a setting. Such a tendency in a
lesser writer would bog down the narrative; Spiegelman, however,
uses words as a painter uses a fine brush, providing details with a
subtlety that entertains while it informs.
DEATH'S LITTLE HELPERS meets, and exceeds, the expectations created
by BLACK MAPS. In the short space of two books, Spiegelman has made
a place for himself on the A-list of writers of noir
fiction. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010