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Posted: August 23, 2020

Peter Spiegelman is a real craftsman

Book Review

By Derryll White

Spiegelman, Peter (2005).  Death’s Little Helper.

This is Peter Spiegelman’s second novel, with private investigator John March being brought forward from ‘Black Maps,’ his first novel. March has graduated from a deputy sheriff’s job in rural New York state to working as a p.i. in New York City. The fact that the author spent more than 20 years in financial institutions is born out here in his command of how Wall Street functions.

Spiegelman is a good writer. He works for and catches a noir tone that reminds the reader of James Crumley, Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett. He builds images and feelings that have a dark tone without being dreary or foreboding. Nor is he so psychologically-inclined as the Scandinavian writers usually are. The story is tight, and thrilling, and believable.

The characters are strong and complex. John March is hired by Nina Sacks to look for her missing husband. Both Nina and her son Billy develop as real and understandable characters.  Spiegelman is careful to build the reader’s involvement with both of them, layer upon layer.  And this link continues to build, throughout the novel.

Somewhere in this dynamic, sad and twisted dark tale Spiegelman grasps the concept of love and makes it central. There is an exploration of how a lesbian relationship strives to do what is best for the child. There is another exploration of what power and greed does to love. And there is the final realization that sometimes, sadly, we are so constrained and blinded by our own person demons that we simply cannot reach out and grasp the love that is there.  I made a note to myself on that final point – “pay attention fool!’

I learned a lot about the stock market, insider trading, and a little more about innate greed.  Spiegelman is a real craftsman. He builds in all the drama of usury, betrayal and deceit.  Then he pierces that with morals, love and human compassion. This story did not turn out the way I thought it would, or the way I wanted it to. For me, that was the definitive moment when I realized that Peter Spiegelman was so good that he had built into my reading my own investment in the story. I wanted John March to get the girl.

Please give Peter Spiegelman a try. I think you will be pleased if you do.

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Excerpts from the novel:

NEW YORK CITY – Overnight the plow shavings and dirty rinds of ice had vanished from the curbsides and intersections, and a drenching rain three weeks ago – the day we’d changed the clocks – had sluiced away the sand and salt and flotsam that remained.  Feathery blossoms had appeared on the trees, faintly at first, like tentative green sketch marks, and then with more color and conviction.  Grass was coming in on the dirt patches in the parks.  Even now, the sidewalks and buildings had a scrubbed, surprised look – like a drunk, waking up sober and in his own bed for the first time in a long time.  I picked up my pace.

INVESTMENT – “I… I pleaded with him… for Guillermo’s sake.  I said we all wanted what was best for Guillermo, and that destroying the home we had made for him could not be for the best.  I said if he wanted more participation in Guillermo’s life, we would welcome that.  And I asked if we could meet, to work something out.  I pleaded with him to meet me, detective.”

LOSS – “Maybe it would be different, easier, if I knew what you were looking for from this – from us.  Or maybe there’s no mystery to it.  Maybe you’re not looking for anything at all.  Maybe your life is already just the way you want it, and I – .”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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