|Carol Lea Benjamin: Fall Guy|
William Morrow. ISBN:0-06-053899-6
In author Carol Lea Benjamin's mystery series, protagonist Rachel Alexander doubles as a private investigator and a trainer of therapy dogs. In this, the seventh in the sequence, the actions and sometimes absence of Dashielle, her gentle and intelligent pit bull, provide essential clues and opportunities toward the solving of the mystery and serve as an interestingly distinct and unusual diversion in this low-key and complex novel of suspense.
Rachel Alexander reacts with surprise and disbelief when informed by Detective Michael Brody of her designation as executor of the will of a man she barely remembers. Upon reflection, she realizes the man in question, Detective Timothy O'Fallon, attended one of her pet therapy sessions shortly after the events of 9/11. Reluctant to take on such a personal and private task for a virtual stranger, yet curious about the reasons behind her selection, she accepts the responsibility.
In a preliminary visit to the deceased's apartment, Alexander learns that O'Fallon frequently shared his apartment with a variety of men in need of rehabilitation from drug usage or other afflictions. She discovers that such a man, Parker Bowling, lived in the apartment at the time of O'Fallon's death. Suspecting that Bowling might cause problems, Detective Brody offers assistance in dealing with the potential trouble, but Alexander chooses to trust her safety to her canine companion Dashielle.
A later visit to O'Fallon's residence elicits immediate questions concerning the circumstances of his death. Detective Brody asserted the death as accidental resulting from a mishap with the victim's own service revolver. However physical evidence gathered at the apartment complex and information from other sources concerning the contamination of the scene by investigating officers lead Alexander to suspect a suicide -- or perhaps even the deliberate cover-up of murder.
Still unsure of the reasons behind O'Fallon's request, Alexander begins the task of sorting through his private papers. Little by little she peels back the previously hidden layers of his life and discovers the dark history and terrible consequences of a troubled and dysfunctional family. Conversations with O'Fallon's sister Mary Margaret add more shocking details concerning the family and provide information essential to the investigation. When another member of the O'Fallon family dies under mysterious circumstances, Alexander begins to piece together links between the two deaths. Her quest for the truth results in a daring plan and places her in harms way.
Throughout the course of the story, Rachel Alexander attempts to understand why a person such as Timothy O'Fallon would trust the distribution of his estate to a virtual stranger, especially considering that a brother and a sister survived him. Several reasons were suggested, but no completely satisfying explanation emerged. In the final analysis, however, I liked the book primarily because Benjamin writes with great imagination and tops off the novel with an intriguing and unexpected ending which kept me remembering the details of the story long after I turned the final page.
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