Emboozlement is Rich Leder’s third novel in the excellent McCall & Company series. Kate McCall, an off-off Broadway actress has inherited her dad’s private investigator business, and now finds herself embroiled in a possible embezzlement scheme at a popular sports bar run by a former Major Leaguer, while somebody is murdering lawyers – who may just be her father’s killer – and somebody is letting her know about the murders ahead of time.
Meanwhile, Kate might be falling for the ballplayer, and also meanwhile he might just the one committing the embezzlement. As always, Leder provides a uniquely entertaining page-turner for readers who like their detective fiction with a great dose of comedy.
As with other installments in the McCall & Company series, all of the elements are there that make the series so original. Fresh from starring in an absurdist Vampire musical, she’s now starring in the equally ridiculous “Psychedelic Sunday,” while using the talents of the collection of misfits to help her solve the crime, in which Kate herself might not make it out unscathed.
Emboozlement is a bit less madcap than other novels in the series, which works both for and against it. The joy of Leder’s writing is his humor and turn of a phrase, as well as his litany of eccentric, off-beat characters. As those characters have been established in previous books in the series, less attention is given to character description, making the book less overtly comedic than other McCall & Company novels.
That said, however, the book does work exceptionally well on its own merits, and may actually appeal more to those readers more accustomed to more straightforward detective fiction. Leder, as always, is a master plotter, and still a master of characterization, albeit certain characters being more “normal” than previous books. It’s the breeziest book of the series so far, as so much has been established that Leder is able to get straight to the story, while still filling in details for newcomers.
This is a more streamlined McCall & Company, and the book is all the better for it, with fewer off-kilter set pieces, and instead weaving Kate’s bizarre world into the overall story. This gives the book a greater sense of realism, which is crucial for detective fiction, as the stakes seem more real and immediate. Kate certainly gets herself in some fairly crazy predicaments, which are as funny as ever, but the stakes are very real as well.
There’s also more romance in this story, which could potentially throw some fans off, as one of the selling points about Kate is she doesn’t really ever go weak in the knees – she’s managed to be tough and feminine, but never quite the character you see here. For instance, she falls for “Blue” Stark for his appearance alone, which is somewhat out of character, given her comfort level with weirdos and eccentrics. This is the one weakness in an otherwise stellar read, as it has the feel of trying to sandwich a romantic subplot into the book, and the character.
That criticism aside, the novel has everything you need in a gripping detective series: a singularly unique PI heroine, an inventive cast of secondary characters, a compelling mystery at its core, high-stakes suspense, and Leder’s brilliant comic timing. With reinvented covers for the entire series, Emboozlement is a perfect starting place for readers who are just entering the series, as it’s the best-plotted and fastest-paced book in a series that is always entertaining.
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