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Crescent Blues Book ViewsWillowgate Press (Trade Paperback) ISBN 1-930008-05-8
One night in a Manhattan hospital someone murders obstetrician Sharon Lee. A psychiatric patient who bears scratch-marks turns up, and investigators find traces of his tissues under the dead woman's fingernails. It seems an open and shut case, yet NYPD Detective Barent isn't so sure -- and neither is surgeon Richard Kurtz. Initially dragged into the case because of a past affair with Lee, Kurtz stays on as unofficial hospital snoop because of prior connections with the CID.

Book: Robert I Katz, Surgical Risk
Soon after, Lee's apartment is burgled, and the burglar is found murdered. A gangster connection surfaces, and Barent sets out to probe it, aware it may be just a red herring. At first he gets nowhere: potential informants either know nothing, say they know nothing, have disappeared or are inconveniently dead. But at last cracks begin to open and shenanigans ensue.

Willy-nilly, Kurtz and his love life become embroiled in those shenanigans, and ultimately, he proves to be the one who spots the vital clue that leads to the busting of a criminal conspiracy and the solution to the murder.

This is a very smoothly written mystery, with likable central characters. The elegance of the writing and the frequently extremely funny but always entertaining conversations of the surgeons around the operating table pull the reader along very satisfactorily. The final unveiling of the murderer comes only after a couple of very effective twists. The private lives of Barent and Kurtz prove involving too. The cop's daughter is getting married, and mother and daughter conspire to create a Father of the Bride-style extravaganza of a wedding. The surgeon is deeply fond of girlfriend Kathy, but not so deeply that he is not tempted by the allure of svelte blonde Lenore, encountered on a solo Mexican holiday and then later back in New York. Kurtz's vacillation between the two women is especially well done.

Book: Robert I katz, edward maretThe novel's only problem lies in the plethora of minor characters. It's hard to keep track of who they all are. This dilutes the effectiveness of those plot twists a little -- hard to be startled by the revelation that it was Smith who did this and Jones who did that when you can't remember who either Smith or Jones actually is.

That reservation aside, however, Surgical Risk delivers a thoroughly enjoyable read, with exactly the right blend of suspense, bamboozlement and humor. It is also substantially tougher-nosed than many a mystery novel: the gangster villains are very convincing in their nastiness, and overall there is no sense of coziness about the novel's worldview. The novel addresses uncomfortable topics such as anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry directly. And the surgical descriptions are satisfyingly revolting. This reviewer will never be able to look a rectum in the eye again without a shudder.

The publishers bill Surgical Risk as "A Kurtz and Barent Mystery," implying that it is the start of a series. I await further volumes eagerly.

John Grant

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