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The Fairfax Incident


The Fairfax Incident

Charlie Doherty is a private investigator in Manhattan. Moreover, he’s a guy you want on your side. And don’t let his size fool you; he’s one tough fellow. The big war may be over, but Prohibition lingers, along with slow economic recovery. People down on their luck have little to lose, so crime is on the rise. At one time, Charlie was an NYPD cop, but now he works for Harriman Van Dorn, a man with resources that Charlie couldn’t even dream about. Fortunately, Van Dorn’s clients tend toward the upper end of society, so Charlie’s lifestyle has vastly improved, even though his relationship with Chief of Police Andrew Carmichael has taken a hefty nosedive. He can deal with that.

Van Dorn’s latest request is for Charlie to look into the suicide of wealthy insurance magnate Walter Fairfax. The story goes that Mr. Fairfax shot himself shortly after arriving at his office one morning. The newly widowed Eleanor Fairfax doesn’t buy the official account, not even a little bit. As much as he tries, Charlie can’t convince her that she’s throwing her money away on his investigation. To Charlie, it appears to be as open and shut as the proverbial locked room case. But Mrs. Fairfax is not a woman to be deterred, so Charlie goes through the motions of looking into it. He figures, what the heck, he’ll make a few calls, interview the people she’s listed; their stories will confirm her husband offed himself, and that will be that.

"THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT is a wonderful, old-fashioned detective novel.... This is a smart read and a wild ride through post-war Manhattan."

Well, it might've worked out that way if not for the bullets flying around on the streets. Once he’s picked himself up off the sidewalk, Charlie figures right away that the guns were meant for him. So he knuckles down and gets serious. He learns that Water was a rich man, yes, but also a dull one. He was a man of routine, a man of numbers, a man who, it would seem, couldn’t possibly be involved in dangerous intrigue. It simply wasn’t in his nature. But while delving into his past, Charlie uncovers some disturbing connections that frighten even the seasoned ex-cop. What on earth had Walter gotten himself into?

The extent of the entanglement goes far beyond one man putting a gun into his mouth and pulling the trigger. Charlie’s seed of doubt about simple suicide grows. Okay, maybe Walter did kill himself, but why? Did he leave a note? Nobody mentioned one. What motive could he have had? Was the man ill? His doctor says no. What about the business? It appears to be booming. And his home life seemed pretty normal, if not exactly passionate. So why?

Oh, the answer will totally blow you away. Mild-mannered Walter Fairfax had something up his sleeve, no question about it, something deadly. This fellow who was devoted to routine deviated from his norm and found himself caught in a trap, a lethal one. His life wasn’t quite what it seemed --- nor what his wife thought it was --- and there were factors at work that he couldn’t control. Those factors turned out to have implications far beyond an insurance man’s life. Normally cautious Walter sampled the forbidden fruit and paid the price.

THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT is a wonderful, old-fashioned detective novel. Set in the 1930s, there are no fancy tricks done with cell phones or computers. Technology was decidedly low back then, if not entirely nonexistent, so Charlie has to rely on his brains. That makes solving the mystery far more fun and far more clever. And Charlie Doherty is definitely one to watch out for. This is a smart read and a wild ride through post-war Manhattan.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on June 29, 2018

The Fairfax Incident
by Terrence McCauley