New Mystery Horses Around Southern California

"Hush Money" by Chuck Greaves
Reviewed by David Marshall James

If you select the correct spectacles through which to read this first novel by former California attorney Chuck Greaves, you'll view a frolickingly fun mystery/thriller.

Those designer specs should definitely bear a "JE" logo-- for "Janet Evanovich," that is-- because the outlandish antics in "Hush Money" serve the story better than they do the hardness of reality, all in the name of good fun.

First novels of this genre tend to be either overwritten or undercooked. "Hush Money," which never loses its forward thrust, tips the scale to the former.

The embossed, engraved calling card here is protagonist Jack MacTaggart, a onetime public defender who has moved onboard with a prestigious Pasadena law firm, where he's defending seriously ill patients against penny-pinching insurance companies.

As the story opens, a senior partner-- the one who helped him onboard-- asks him to pinch-hit in a case of alleged insurance fraud, involving a well-stretched if not well-heeled-as-she-pretends-to-be widow, the owner of a show horse that unexpectedly bites the dust, just as one of the woman's other horses did, within recent memory.

The lady doth protest all accusations of wrongdoing; however, Jack isn't partial to coincidences. In addition to battling insurance companies and their attorneys-- and these scenes are expertly executed-- Jack hitches onto the movers and shakers (and imbibers) at the elite club where the late horse was stabled.

He's horsing around with the horsey set, if you will, including an affair with a fetching rider/instructor.

The horse saga is connected to some deeply imbedded secrets at the law firm-- and beyond.

Again, the author heaps an ample serving of story on the reader's plate, although the main attractions are MacTaggart and his Gal Friday, "Mayday," at the firm. She would tense at the term, as she's a whiz-bang associate, yet there's definitely an element of Cary Grant vis-a-vis and quip-to-quip Roz Russell in their work relationship.

Jack's titular secretary is far more concerned with nails, hair, and punctuality in punching-out-- no Della Street she. Nevertheless, she has an amusing turn in Halloween feline-drag. The author's bounty of such touches points the path toward even-better (as in, even more fun characters) series volumes.

Wth its "whoa, boy!" central character, sharp dialogue, and hit-the-spot Southern California venues, this is a series with plenty of potential.