Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Short Squeeze, by Chris Knopf (hardcover, $24.99)(c2009)

The meaning of the title isn't apparent until the end, at which time the reader can fully appreciate the double-entendre. And it's worthwhile getting to the end. This was a meaty story with a quirky, engaging character. However, Hamptons lawyer and young widow Jacquelyn Swaitkowski (née O'Dwyer) is definitely not cute and perky, so if that assumption was worming its way into your head, get it out. She smokes, lives in a pig sty, tokes a joint every now and then, and is pig-headedly stubborn. (Are you sensing a pig-related theme?)

When one thinks of the Hamptons, perhaps even if one lives there, one thinks of money, old money, mansions and leisure. And, sniff, the riff-raff should be quietly cutting grass or polishing cars. Or working as a real estate/criminal defense attorney. Having grown up and lived most of her adult life in the Hamptons, Jackie knows that there's more than the rich who inhabit Long Island's most exclusive area and that money certainly doesn't guarantee a classy attitude or philosophy. All this helps Jackie make a living.

Sergey Pontecello brings more than his real estate problem to Jackie's doorstep one day, but neither of them realizes it at the time. To Jackie, Sergey is someone who is trying to evict the annoying sister of his late wife from his home. Sister-in-law Eunice is claiming the home is hers and that Sergey is the interloper. Probably a simple enough case, Jackie thinks, until Sergey is murdered later that night.

Jackie's aforementioned pig-headedness steers her into the thick of things with visits to Eunice, Eunice's adult daughter and adopted son, undertakers, pathologists, police, and an ex- and maybe future boyfriend.

Chris Knopf, a man, dares to take on the persona of a woman and receives a standing-o from this reader. Jackie's not helpless but knows when to call for help. She's both book smart and people smart, which is what she needs to be to figure out who killed Sergey. While the main story is not light and fluffy, Knopf's humorous touches balance the ultimate sadness of this tale. Short Squeeze is a spin-off of Knopf's series with Hamptons carpenter Sam Aquillo, who lends a very occasional hand here.

It was also Knopf's snappy writing that kept me going after I read a few pages and was on the verge of putting the book down. Within the first few pages, Jackie is called to Sergey's crime scene to identify the body, which has no identification and only Jackie's business card in his pocket. Jackie views the body, throws up, and is sent home by her friendly police detective, all without apparently identifying the body. I get distracted by that sort of lack of internal consistency. How hard would it be to write, "I croaked, 'Sergey Pontecello,' before throwing up in the bushes." There were a couple of other things that seemed improbable, but after I got into the story, I didn't care and went with the flow.

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