cover image Deception Pass

Deception Pass

Earl Emerson. Ballantine Books, $22 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-345-40068-0

A serious moral issue--how to handle a guilty client--lies at the heart of Emerson's latest book about Seattle PI Thomas Black (after The Million-Dollar Tattoo), but its beat is drowned out by Black's incessant banter. The very wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist Lainie Smith hires Black to find out who is blackmailing her. At first, she refuses to say what secret she's hiding, but we soon learn that it's her part in a notorious mass murder in a bungalow at scenic Deception Pass 17 years earlier. A man named Charles Groth was tried and executed for the crimes, but a drugged-out teenage Lainie might have played more than the passive role to which she gradually admits. Several possible blackmailers quickly emerge, including an obsessive journalist who thinks she owns the Groth story and a man who might have witnessed the crime. After the young man who collected the blackmail money is found murdered, Black and his associates further irritate the cop on the case; and Black's wife, Kathy, a lawyer, realizes she'll have a hard time defending Lainie against the inevitable murder charges she faces. Substandard Chandlerisms and a barrage of wisecracks diminish this otherwise strong story. (Nov.)