THE BIG DIG
The taut ninth entry in Barnes's Carlotta Carlyle series concerns malfeasance at Boston's Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project, "the biggest urban construction project in the history of the modern world," an engineering marvel and a multibillion-dollar opportunity for graft, kickbacks and political favors. Wounded in the thigh from a gunshot during her last case (1999's Flashpoint) and in the heart from a romance with a rising Mafia don, Carlyle poses as a secretary to find what's rotten at a Big Dig contractor, Horgan Construction. A disgruntled hardhat falls to his death—or is he pushed? Someone seems to be stealing dirt from the site. The boss's wife has a horrible case of nerves. Just as Carlyle feels stymied at the Big Dig, she's diverted by a second, more lucrative case—Dana Endicott, a Boston Brahmin, begs her to find her missing tenant, Veronica James, whose fate seems tied to an oddly silent kennel. Carlyle is immensely likable, tough without being hard, flawed in ways more original than the average mean streets sleuth. Barnes makes excellent use of Boston's ethnic and economic fiefdoms: the waterfront with its yuppies guzzling designer beer; South Boston, where despair clings to its citizens like the aluminum siding to their decrepit houses. The many plot threads are abruptly but satisfyingly tied up with writing that's vivid, economical and fun. Carlyle thinks: "This business, this art, of deception, of keeping daily secrets, hiding a side of your personality, intrigued me." It intrigues readers, too. (Nov. 1)
Forecast:A big push from the publisher, including an author tour and national print advertising, could help bring Barnes the kind of sales associated with mysteries featuring better-known women sleuths—or with that other Boston female PI, Robert B. Parker's Sunny Randall.