SWAN DIVE (1988) by Jeremiah Healy
Roy Marsh is well-off, big, mean, and abusive. His wife Hanna, mother of their five-year-old daughter Vickie, is divorcing him. Her attorney is the not-very-well-to-do Chris Christides, P.I. John Cuddy’s college chum. Because Chris has been paid a menacing visit by Roy Marsh the day before he and Hanna have a meeting with Marsh and his attorney, he asks Cuddy to partcipate in a body-guarding role.
Chris has another appointment, so Cuddy drives Hanna and Vickie to their shabby temporary residence. The little girl can’t wait to show Cuddy the pet cat on which she dotes—the cat that sets off her screams when she discovers it skinned, mewing pathetically and bleeding profusely. Cuddy is certain Roy Marsh is responsible.
As events unfold further, Cuddy is mugged and his gun stolen. It later turns up in a seedy twelfth floor hotel room from which Marsh has plummeted to his death. A prostitute has been shot to death in the same room.
The Boston police don’t believe Cuddy is innocent of the murders, but they don’t jail him, either. He’s soon confronted by J.J. Braxley, a Caribbean drug distributor, and his noxiously odoriferous bonebreaker Terdell. It seems that a quarter million dollars worth of J.J.’s cocaine is missing, cocaine Roy Marsh had in his possession before he died. J.J. demands that Cuddy recover and return it, or he’ll take out his revenge on the innocent Hanna and Vickie. Thus, Cuddy has to play footsie with the police, who have an agenda of their own, while trying to clear himself by solving two murders and preventing two more. How he finally does guarantees some surprises, perhaps even shocks, for the reader.
Swan Dive is the first of his novels I’ve read, and Jeremiah Healy is a writer impressive in his economy. He tells a rapid-paced, strongly plotted story in prose free of pyrotechnical flourishes, providing descriptions of people and places spare enough to allow the reader to exercise his imagination but still get the picture. The story is long on dialogue (sometimes laden with raw language—a warning to the prudish) that individualizes characters, eliminating the need for narrational analyses of their psyches. Cuddy himself, while able to dish out and take batterings when he has to, is also fairly cerebral. He reaches the solution by examining the information he’s shared with the reader along the way.
Some of the review blurbs on the Pocket Books paperback edition I have compare Healy with Robert B. Parker. This was probably inevitable because both Cuddy and Parker’s Spenser work out of Boston. As far as I’m concerned there is no comparison; Healy has it all over Parker. Then again, I have to concede a long-standing bias against Parker, whom I gave up on after reading the first dozen or so Spenser novels, the insulting-to-Raymond Chandler Poodle Springs, and the godawful Perchance to Dream. I’ve never understood why reviewers and critics, let alone readers, find him so appealing. Spenser is frequently childish. Parker is pretentious: he once told an interviewer that although he knew he couldn‘t write The Sound and the Fury, he could write The Big Sleep.
I can’t be the only one to notice he never came close.
Enough harangue. Whether or not Parker suits your tastes, if you like modern private eye fiction, you’re apt to enjoy Jeremiah Healy.
Barry Ergang ©2007, 2020
Among other works, Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang's own impossible crime novelette, The Play of Light and Shadow, is available at Amazon and Smashwords as is his recently released book of poetry, Farrago, and other entertaining reads. For more on Barry’s books as well as his editing services, check out Barry’s website.