INHERIT THE DEAD is what is sometimes referred to as a “novel by committee.” Specifically, it's a 20-chapter novel in which each installment is penned by a different author. Those who approach this as another book in an interesting experiment, executed for a good cause --- a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Safe Horizon (an organization that aids victims of crime and abuse) --- will be pleasantly surprised to find a fairly seamless hard-boiled mystery with a protagonist who will leave you hoping for a return visit.
Let’s talk for a moment about the content before getting into the nuts and bolts behind INHERIT THE DEAD and its creation. The book is told primarily from the perspective of Pericles “call me ‘Perry’” Christo, a former NYPD homicide policeman who resigned in disgrace because someone determined that doing the right thing was very, very wrong. Christo is now a private investigator with a teenage daughter who he loves but sees all too infrequently, a child support obligation, and an ex-wife who he still loves dearly.
As INHERIT THE DEAD opens, Christo is responding to a call that is more like a summons from Julia Drusilla, a wealthy Upper East Side divorcee with an all-too-common problem and plenty of money to throw at it. Julia’s daughter Angel, just the other side of 20, has gone missing at a very inopportune time. Angel stands to inherit a significant amount of money from a trust that has been set up for her, but only if she signs some documents before turning 21, which will happen shortly. Christo takes the case, despite the fact that much he is told seems to be wrong. Angel and her mother were estranged to the extent that Angel’s father had custody, and the two women hadn’t spoken in a year.
"...a fairly seamless hard-boiled mystery with a protagonist who will leave you hoping for a return visit."
Even more interesting is that the trust divests to Julia if Angel fails to sign the documents before she comes of age. Julia waves the latter detail away --- she says she has more money than she needs and claims to be terminally ill --- but Christo isn’t convinced. His alarm bells ring even louder when he journeys to Long Island to talk to Angel’s father, her studly but very inappropriate boyfriend, and her BFF of the month. Christo is convinced that everyone, including his client, is lying to him. And, to some extent, he is right. Things take another unexpected turn when Christo discovers exactly what has happened to Angel and why. Not everyone makes it to the finish line, and those who do have much to answer for, even as Christo walks into the darkness more jaded than ever.
The first chapter is written by Jonathan Santlofer, who also did yeoman’s work in guiding the contributing authors through the chapters. The 20 authors who participated include stalwarts like Heather Graham and Lawrence Block, who contributes the final chapter to finish INHERIT THE DEAD in grand form. There are some unexpected contributors here, including Stephen L. Carter, who is better known for his fine political thrillers than for shorter work; John Connolly, who was responsible for one of the best chapters with nary a hint of the supernatural to be found; and C.J. Box, who eschews his usual southwestern environs for the caverns of Manhattan. Another surprise is a chapter from James Grady, whose first novel was adapted into a film titled Three Days of the Condor. Others are names as disparate as Mary Higgins Clark and Ken Bruen, who each contribute a wonderful chapter.
I wish I had the space to note all the authors here, as no one disappoints. The only disappointment is that the book ended. I would dearly love to see more of the hard-luck but well-intentioned Christo, whether in this novel-by-committee format or by a single author, of which any of the contributors of INHERIT THE DEAD could do more than a fine job.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 11, 2013