Corpses and Coq au VinBy Michael Z. Jody(03/24/2009) “Deadly Bones,” the new thriller by Boris Riskin and the second Jake Wanderman novel, is barely four pages into its prologue when the first victim, a crooked art dealer named Cormac Blather, is murdered
in his antiques shop on Main Street in Sag Harbor. We observe the killer and witness the deed, but are left in a sinister murk as to the identity of the murderer, nor are we any wiser about his motives for stabbing Cormac to death. We do learn that Cormac is not exactly on the up-and-up. He has recently sold an ossuary, a burial box made of limestone “used to contain the bones of the dead in Jewish burial ceremonies thousands of years ago,” to Bryson Mergenthaler, “his best client, a man in the top twenty” of the Forbes 400 richest. Cormac knew the ossuary was a fake, but could not resist the money he received nor apparently the pleasure of deceiving this rich and powerful man. Jake Wanderman is known as the “Sam Spade of Sag Harbor,” apparently from his adventures in Mr. Riskin’s previous thriller, “Scrambled Eggs.” Jake is in his 50s, was a high school English teacher specializing in Shakespeare (whom he is prone to quote with delightful frequency), and is six months widowed from his beloved wife, Rosalind. Jake knows the perforated Cormac’s daughter, Toby, because his wife had worked for her. Toby is a kind of fictionalized Martha Stewart, complete with a perfect, large, gated home in Georgica. Might as well mention here that one of the many gratifications of “Deadly Bones” is the rainbow of local color: streets and locales (“I took 114 to Stephen Hand’s Path, then Cedar to North Main Street”), towns, stores, and eateries (Rowdy Hall, Sag Harbor’s Espresso and Conca D’Oro) that will often be delightfully familiar to East Enders. “The siren went off supposedly at noon every day, but typical of the charm of Sag Harbor it was usually off a minute.” There is great fun in knowing the places described in a novel. You get to match the author’s descriptions against your own mental images and experiences, which adds a dimension to your reading. Mostly Jake is the first-person narrator, but once in a while a chapter is in the third person (a slightly unusual technique, but it works nicely here). Most of the third-person chapters follow Landis Kalem, the billionaire Mergenthaler’s personal assistant, but a few follow the police officers who become involved in the murder. Another pleasure of “Deadly Bones” is that Jake is a gourmand of the highest water, a bit like Spenser, Robert Parker’s detective. For Jake food means love, life, healing; when he is injured, as he is several times during the course of the novel, people, particularly women, bring him food with wonderful regularity. He is frequently enjoying food, preparing delicious-sounding meals, or at the very least thinking about what he has eaten or envisioning what he intends to eat. A man after my own heart. “I made coq au vin no more than two or three times a year because it was a lot of work. Rosalind loved the dish; it was one of her favorites, probably because it was loaded with butter and wine. This was the first time since she had died that I’d attempted it. It came about because I had a sudden yearning. That was when I usually cooked it, the juices flowing with the memory of my introduction to it back in Paris when I was a young student there.” In the middle of preparing the meal, Jake receives a visit from Detective Sienna Nolan, the lead detective on the Cormac Blather murder case. “Would you care to tell me anything about this?” she asks. “Inside the bag is my Private Investigator card,” Jake says. “I’d given it to Cormac right after I’d had them printed. That was when I was still expecting to become a P.I.” Detective Nolan happens to be quite attractive, but she gives Jake a hard time about the card, seeing as how he is not a licensed P.I. “I was beginning to be annoyed by this woman even though she had the most startling green eyes I’d ever seen.” Nolan doesn’t want to allow Jake to become involved in her investigation in any way, but Toby, the murderee’s daughter, plucks some major strings to get him involved. Her tarot reader says, “I should persuade you to investigate his murder” because “the police will not be able to do it themselves.” Jake becomes Nolan’s unofficial, and at first unwanted, partner, and begins to notice more than just her pretty eyes. Of course the first thing they do together is go out for a bite to eat. The plotting in “Deadly Bones” is fairly complex and I won’t spoil the fun of unraveling the path to Jake’s resolution of the identity and motive of the murderer. But I will mention that partly due to being assaulted and beaten badly enough to land in the hospital (Southampton) and partly due to a break-in and the theft of the fake ossuary from Mergenthaler, Jake ends up backtracking the phony ossuary to Jerusalem to inquire with the Israeli Antiquities Authority about the provenance of the bone box and also to follow the trail of the Russian Mafia. In Jerusalem Jake eats several fine meals (no surprise there) and becomes amorously interested in another female cop, this one Israeli and even more beautiful than Detective Nolan. He is also kidnapped, drugged, and nearly killed by the Russian Mob. Luckily he is saved because the police have been monitoring the Russians. Which leads to my only major complaint about the novel. Most of the times Jake is attacked he neither fights back nor saves himself. He is generally rescued in the nick of time by others. I found it especially curious that he is so passive because we are informed early on that he is a lifelong practitioner of “yoga, karate, sit-ups, push-ups, and waitankung, the tai chi and yoga-like movements mI’d learned in Thailand.” Seems a shame to have all those skills and not use ’em even once. Quibbles aside, Jake is an amiable and enjoyable character. It is great fun to watch him spouting Shakespeare, charming the various females he encounters, and eating often and well as he investigates the trail of the murder from Sag Harbor to Jerusalem and back. Mr. Riskin is informative and interesting on many topics during the course of the novel, from archaeology to history to police procedural details. “Deadly Bones” is well constructed and will keep you entertained from its opening murder to its denouement.“Deadly Bones”Boris RiskinGale, $25.95— Boris Riskin lives in Sag Harbor. Michael Z. Jody is a psychoanalyst and couples counselor with offices in Amagansett and New York City.
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