LOVER MAN (1987) by Dallas Murphy
reviewed by Barry Ergang
Life is good for Artie Deemer. His favorite pastime is to play jazz through his stereo system, settle back in his Morris chair with his feet propped on the window sill, smoke some pot, and listen while he watches from his window the activity in Riverside Park and on the Hudson River twelve stories below. He doesn’t have to work. He lives off Jellyroll.
Jellyroll is the spokesdog featured in the R-r-ruff Dog Food print and television ads. He sometimes gets acting gigs in movies and TV programs, supplementing his already substantial income.
Both Artie’s idyllic lifestyle and mental state are shattered when a pair of NYPD detectives show up at his door to inform him that his ex-lover Billie Burke, a photographer and Jellyroll’s original owner, has been murdered—drowned in her bathtub, her hands and feet bound. The cops need Artie to formally identify her body, and they have questions for him about his relationship with her, what he knows about her family, her other relationships, etc.
When he is feeling reclusive, Artie will ignore phone calls and messages for days at a time. Thus, when he returns to his apartment from the morgue, he’s startled to find an urgent message on his answering machine from Billie. Recorded the night of her murder, it asks him to meet her at her studio so she can give him something.
His pursuit of the something leads him into an adventure he could happily do without, but he’s determined to find out who killed Billie. His quest leads to encounters with a corpse in a refrigerator, the corpse’s very live and vengeful brother, a World War II flying ace now working for the mob, the ace’s henchmen, a pair of doctors of dubious character, federal investigators, and more visits from the police. The more he digs, the more Artie realizes that Billie wasn’t entirely who she seemed to be, and that the past she claimed wasn’t entirely real.
Although the story has its grim moments, Murphy seamlessly blends levity with gravity in a neatly-paced narrative brimming with colorful characters and wild action that should appeal to fans of semi-hardboiled mysteries. One caveat: the language is occasionally on the raw side, so readers who find that sort of thing offensive may want to avoid this one.
Barry Ergang © 2008
2007 Derringer winner Barry Ergang is Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor for Mysterical-E. You can find information about and links to his work Barry’s webpages.