"Short Squeeze" by Chris Knopf
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 274 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
When "The Hamptons" and "attorney" are grouped in the same sentence, they conjure images of Oriental rugs, buttery leather furniture, and mahogany credenzas topped with sterling-silver-framed photographs and antique ship models.
When the Hamptons attorney in question is Jackie Swaitkowski-- that's "Ms. Swaitkowski" to you, buster-- then picture a vintage Toyota pickup, random piles of takeout coffee cups, jumbled cardboard boxes in every room, and haphazard stacks of papers on every available surface, mahogany or otherwise (mostly otherwise).
Let's not forget her ashtrays, brimming not only with cigarette stubs (to be relit in emergencies, which arrive frequently), but also with half-smoked roaches (ready for refiring as well).
Ms. Swaitkowski's environs may be as unruly as her perpetually frizzed-out, strawberry blonde hair, but hand the lady a mysterious client who winds up like 160 pounds of ground round in the middle of the road, and she's going to get to the bottom of the case, regardless of her cop friends' repeated cries of interference with a police investigation.
"Why bother," you may wonder. Well, she's naturally curious, first and foremost. Not far behind that: She feels partially responsible for the murder, having ignored her client's calls the night of his death (Irish Catholic guilt, courtesy of her father's lineage, also enters into play). The capper comes when someone attempts to run her off the road.
Hamptons resident and mystery author Chris Knopf sets sail on a new series featuring bountiful local color and frothing with witty repartee. During the course of a plot that moves at a nice clip, Jackie emerges as a likable leading lady. Knopf also earns character points with her on-again beau and her assorted associates from previous capers and cases.
Knopf's well-layered plot is particularly laudable for the fact that, although its puzzle pieces become evident, fitting them together is challenging. Ms. Swaitkowski proves up to that challenge. She may do her best work under a smoky haze of sometimes questionable origin, but she's a breath of fresh air on the mystery-novel scene.
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