Verdict: Juri Pill’s A DEATH IN GREENWICH is an exciting blend of business and murder that never belabors their connection, but instead harks back to the lurking business/crime nexus of Raymond Chandler.
Once when I was a graduate student in, of all places, New York, the financial epicenter of America, a well-fed leftist professor droned on about how Wall Street, which you could see from the classroom window, was home to murderers. When I asked her if she meant “economic murderers,” she shook her head, and said, “No. They create war. They are the financial wing of the ‘military-industrial complex.”’
Silent film star Charlie Chaplin, probably as equally “left” as said professor, went further with this analogy, asserting that businessmen in the form of “war profiteers” were worse even than serial killers. In Monsieur Verdoux (1947), he defended a French serial killer, who married and then poisoned his wives, by juxtaposing these “crimes’ with those who orchestrate war. Mere seconds away from execution, Verdoux noted that his body counts were much smaller than capitalist war makers. Chaplin even sought to make Verdoux’s crimes somehow more honorable, as he murdered in order to provide for his family; by contrast,‘they” killed whole populations simply to line their pockets.
Reading through this excellent mystery, I was reminded of the above analogies between criminals and businessmen. Pill definitely knows the world of the hedge-funders, who could, as described by author Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities as “Masters of The Universe,” literally be called “soldiers of fortune.” Mixing this group in with those usually defined as “soldiers of fortune,” mercenary soldiers, and a serial killer allows Pill the opportunity to make smooth analogies between the three.
Set against the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008, the novel has the world of a business nerd crash when a serial killer targets him and his family. Pill knows how to get the reader to turn the page and is a master of using precisely the right image to haunt said reader:
“Dr. Joshua Dionne stared down at the severed finger and the pool of blood on the white tile floor.”
And despite all the carnage that ensues, this image is so perfectly selected that it stays with the reader even when larger body parts are severed.
Pill is listed on Amazon as the author of how-to manual for those planning transportation schemes. At first glance, it would seem improbable that such a resume as Pill’s would qualify him for thriller writing. But it is instructive to remember that probably the greatest of all mystery noir writers was a former oil executive named Raymond Chandler. Chandler knew how to portray the rich in all their corrupt glory (although in response to a letter writer asking if he was a Marxist, Chandler quipped, “I don’t despise the rich because they take baths; I despise them because they are phony”).
Pill doesn’t have Chandler’s gift for similes (who does?), but he does know how to merge the world of cut-throat capitalism with actual cut-throat serial killers. And he creates suspense not only with the plot but by thrusting a desk-jockey business type into an adventure requiring athleticism.
All in all, Pill betrays not only his business background but also his planning ability, and not just for transportation schemes, but for mystery plots.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader