The Fixer

9780525954613_p0_v3_s192x300In Joseph Finder’s The Fixer, Rick Hoffman finds a pile of hundred-dollar bills – over three million dollars – in the crawl space of his father’s old house in Boston.  With this electrifying premise, Hoffman begins a tale of corruption and undercover payoffs connected to Boston’s Big Dig.

Rick, an investigative reporter who has just lost his job, while happy to find the unexpected windfall, suspects his father, now paralyzed by a stroke, could reveal the secrets behind the mystery – if only he could speak.  As he investigates his father’s past, Rick discovers a crusading attorney who helped the underdog but who also funded his pro bono cases with laundered money from illegal sources. Rick’s father was the “fixer,” a go-between who was rewarded with cash.

The story has frantic moments, red herrings, and enough plot turns to sustain the suspense but I found myself just wanting to know “how the story ends,” and skipping over extraneous dialogue and irrelevant descriptions.  The big reveal included a happy ending, with the good guys getting the bad guys.

A fast summer read full of dirty money and atonement – The Fixer was a fun way to pass the time.  Maybe it’s time to clean out the attic – no telling what is in there.

The Drowning House


Galveston, Texas has always had the aura of the old wild west for me, but Elizabeth Black’s Gothic mystery – The Drowning House – reveals a sophisticated old city on a barrier island that reminded me of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The story mixes tragedy across decades, with the devastation of the Great Storm of September, 1900 as the historical backdrop.

Still despondent from the accidental death of her six-year-old daughter, photographer Clare Porterfield returns to her childhood home in Galveston to organize an exhibit from the town’s archives.  Galveston has the flavor of the deep South, not only with the oppressive heat and humidity, but also with the hierarchy of old family ancestry that separates those BOI (born on the island) from the tourists and outsiders.  At times, the pace of Black’s novel seems overwhelmed by the heavy atmosphere as the family secrets slowly unravel.

The Carraday family and their historic house form the base for the tangents of grief and mystery.  Local lore suggests that Stella Carraday drowned in the Great Storm that swept the island at the turn of the century; her hair was found tangled in the immense chandelier in the family mansion when the water level submerged roads, houses, and any escape from an overrun causeway.  Clare’s family home sits next to the Carraday house; her connections with the Carraday family, especially Patrick Carraday, her childhood soulmate and partner in juvenile pranks, hide the secrets that Black teases the reader with throughout the narrative – something sinister is lurking beneath the gracious veneer and hospitality.  How did Stella really die?  And why were Clare and Patrick sent away as teenagers to live apart from their families?  Eventually, all is resolved in an unsurprising ending, but with a few shocking revelations along the way.

Black’s style reminded me of Carol Goodman – author of The Lake of Dead Languages and Arcadia Falls – that same dark Gothic flavor, but with a much slower pace.  It took awhile to become engaged in the story; I found myself distracted by the finite descriptions of the place and the melancholy of the narrator.  Luckily, the pace suited my mood, and I enjoyed the tale, while learning a little about a piece of Texas I had not encountered before.