cover image Dead Man's Dance

Dead Man's Dance

Robert Ferrigno. Putnam Publishing Group, $23.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14025-9

The opening scene of Ferrigno's third crime novel (after The Cheshire Moon) is a reminder of how good and tough this West Coast-cool author can be: as two killers invade the home of California Superior Court Judge Teddy Krammerson, the judge meets death with dignity, but not before slamming one of his attackers in the face with a telephone (""`You have no idea how good that felt,'' he said... breathing hard, his eyes calm as smoke. `Opportunity knocks... I always answer.'""). In the face of rampant evil, the judge's stepson, investigative reporter Quinn, shows similar courage as he digs into the murder. The web of deceit involving new ripples from long-ago crimes that Quinn uncovers is so tangled, so ultra-Chandleresque, that the reader yearns for some violent action to cut it clean. But there's no relief until the final chapters, when Ferrigno thrusts Quinn into two shockingly bloody battles. Along the way, a gallery of memorable characters-the two killers, eccentric and scary angels of death; their wealthy, corrupt patron; Quinn's mysterious family friend who reappears after 28 years in prison-boost the sleuthing. And an affecting subplot about Quinn's loyalties in love-he is torn between his girlfriend and his estranged wife and daughter-enriches the tale. But finally, poor pacing and spaghetti plotting render what could have been a minor crime classic into just an above-average thriller. 150,000 first printing; $250,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild and Mystery Guild featured alternates. (July)