"Shadow of Death"
(reviewed by Mary Whipple JUL 3, 2004)
"A lot of things had changed in my life since August. After being divorced and living alone in a rented condo on the waterfront for eleven years, I moved to the townhouse on Beacon Hill, and Evie moved in with me. We'd bought it from Walt Duffy's son Ethan, after Walt was killed. Henry David Thoreau, the Brittany spaniel who'd lived there with Walt and Ethan, came with the place…"
Brady Coyne, a down-to-earth Boston attorney who defies the stereotype of "Boston attorney," ventures into the world of murder and mayhem in William Tapply's twenty-first Brady Coyne novel. A lawyer who prefers to avoid the courtroom, Coyne handles the wills, divorces, and legal missteps of wealthy clients, keeping their identities confidential and earning their undying gratitude and very large checks. This allows him plenty of time free from the office so that he can go trout fishing in the country, a practice which sometimes frustrates his conscientious secretary Julie, who is always worried about whether there will be enough billable hours to keep the office running smoothly.
Recently, Coyne has taken some important new steps in his personal life, buying a house on Mount Vernon Street, Beacon Hill, with the new love of his life, Edie, a hardworking administrator at Beth Israel Hospital, with whom he shares responsibility for the house, the meals, and, of course, the ubiquitous Henry, a Brittany Spaniel. With an office and computer in the house, Coyne is now spending even less time in the office but working just as hard, maintaining his reputation for discretion and loyalty, while quietly doing whatever investigative legwork is necessary to solve the problems of his wealthy clientele.
When Jimmy D'Ambrosio, a powerful, old-style, Boston politician and king-maker, approaches him to investigate the husband of Ellen Stoddard, a woman whose campaign for Senate he is managing, Coyne hires a friend, Gordon Cahill to do some extra private investigating of Albert Stoddard, a history professor at Tufts University. Within days, however, Cahill is dead in a car crash while returning from a fishing cabin in Southwick, New Hampshire, and the state police think it may be homicide. Coyne's investigative trip to the same cabin leads to his own beating, but reveals that two men whom Albert Stoddard may have known when he was a child have died very recently, one of them a suicide. When Stoddard himself goes missing and fails to show up for his university classes for a week, Coyne is prohibited by his client from revealing this to the state police, nor is he allowed to reveal any other information about this case to the police as they investigate the death of his friend, Gordon Cahill, the private investigator.
As in other Brady Coyne mysteries, author Tapply's unique style makes this novel memorable. Though there are some tough-as-nails confrontations and violence between Coyne and the enemies of his clients, the series also has a kind of charm. The emphasis is not simply on solving a mystery but on the interrelationships of the realistically portrayed characters. Though some of these characters are local stereotypes, easily recognizable by anyone from New England, their dialogue with Brady Coyne gives them a life lacking in many other mystery novels and makes them feel real. Coyne himself becomes a more fully developed and "rounder" character with the introduction of Evie, his new live-in love, and Henry the dog brings a humorous, "Everyman" touch to the otherwise exotic life of this investigator/attorney.
Tapply gives additional life to his characters by mixing his fictional characters with real characters, easily recognizable to those who have lived in the Boston area. Though Jimmy D'Ambrosio is in some ways a stereotypical Boston pol, he is described as having been the campaign manager of the real former Mayor Kevin White. Through Coyne's meetings with Jimmy, we see Jimmy come to life and understand that he cares for Ellen Stoddard (and especially her campaign) and for the state he hopes that she will represent in the Senate. When Coyne is investigating whether the death of Gordon Cahill may be related to work Cahill did as an undercover state policeman, which resulted in the conviction of a key member of the Winter Hill Gang, he is talking about a real gang and real criminals, such as Whitey Bulger, now on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List. And when Coyne goes to the North End to talk to Vincent Russo, a restaurateur and mob boss, he is talking to a fictional character who has his roots in real Boston history.
Tapply's folksy narrative style, the honest simplicity of his descriptions, and the incorporation of local color from Boston and the woodlands of southern New Hampshire, give the novel a kind of breadth and liveliness missing from hard-boiled detective stories. Boston and its geographical landmarks, subway stations, and residential side streets are easily recognizable, and the small New Hampshire towns, with their wooded, unpaved roads are realistically described--anyone who has prowled around the real towns of Jaffrey or Peterborough has been on many roads just like these. Though Tapply resists the temptation to recreate Boston's accent in dialogue or to have any of his New Hampshire townspeople say "Ayuh," instead of "yes," the reader can easily imagine them doing this.
Simple in its presentation and style, the mystery is also fairly simple, and while the reader may be surprised by one plot twist at the end, the chances are that s/he will not be very surprised by the solution to the mystery. The reading of the novel is so pleasurable, however, and the dialogue and interaction of the characters (and the dog) are so much fun to observe that I will gladly trade "shock and awe" for more good, old-fashioned story-telling like this, anyday.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Shadow of Death at William Tapply's website(back to top)
(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUN 21, 1999)
Brady Coyne is one of those low-key, nice guy lawyers (really) that drafts wills and other legal paperwork. His clients tend to be rich white men and women that provide him with nice retainers and in return he's there when they need him. His best asset is his ability to keep a secret, legally known as client privilege. As the story opens, Honorable Chester Y. Popowski's, called "Pops" for short and a friend since college, is being nominated to the Federal District Court. Coyne is also Pops' lawyer since "even judges need lawyers." Everyone knows that to be nominated as a Federal Judge your slate has to be very clean - that's American politics and Pops seems to be the cleanest, most noble human being that has walked this earth.
Well almost perfect, as it turns out there is one little matter that Pops needs Coyne's help with. Someone is bringing up the name Karen Lavoie from his past. While Pops admits that something did briefly happen between them when he was an Assistant D.A., it isn't anything to keep him from the bench, maybe from President, but not the bench. He says that he doesn't want to have any of this get out since "the qualifications for being a husband are much more stringent than those for being a judge." Coyne volunteers to meet with the mysterious caller that seems to want something from Pops at this most inopportune time in his career. Sometime later in the evening after Coyne publicly meets the "blackmailer," the man is found murdered and Coyne seems to be high on the suspect list. Due to client privilege, he can not help himself anymore than he can help the police with this case. Worse he's beginning to think he might not really know Pops.
This is one of those quick read mysteries that's a pleasant page turner and moves along without revealing "whodunit" until the final pages. I truly enjoyed the Boston aspect of the novel and especially like his reference to his fishing buddy Doc Adams. At the end of my copy are the first pages of The Spotted Cat. This excerpt was interesting enough that I would have kept reading it until the end if the whole book had followed. While not heavy on the intellectual side, this author does have some good casual insight and humor and any of his books would make a good vacation read.
- Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Brady Coyne Mystery Series:
- Death at Charity's Point (1984)
- The Dutch Blue Error (1984)
- Follow the Sharks (1985)
- The Marine Corpse (1986)
- Dead Meat (1987)
- The Vulgar Boatman (1987)
- A Void in Hearts (1988)
- Dead Winter (1989)
- Client Privilege (1990)
- The Spotted Cats (1991)
- Tight Lines (1992)
- The Snake Eater (1993)
- The Seventh Enemy (1995)
- Close to the Bone (1996)
- Cutter's Run (1998)
- Muscle Memory (July 1999)
- Scar Tissue (October 2000)
- Past Tense (October 2001)
- A Fine Line (November 2002)
- Shadow of Death (November 2003)
- Nervous Water (September 2005)
- Out Cold (September 2006)
- One-Way Ticket (September 2007)
- Hell Bent (September 2008)
- Outwitting Trolls (November 2010)
Stoney Calhoun Mystery Series:
Written with Linda Barlow:
- Thicker Than Water (1995)
Brady Coyne/J.W. Jackson (Written with Philip R. Craig):
- The Nomination (February 2011)
- Those Hours Spent Outdoors: Reflections on Hunting and Fishing
- Sportsman's Legacy (1993)
- The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing a Modern Whodunit (1995; May 2004)
- A Fly-Fishing Life (1997)
- Bass Bug Fishing (November 1999)
- Upland Days: Fifty Years of Bird Hunting in New England (December 2000)
- A Pocket Water: Confessions of a Restless Angler (December 2001)
- The Orvis Pocket Guide to Fly Fishing for Bass (March 2003)
- Gone Fishin' -- Ruminations on Fly Fishing (November 2004)
- Trout Eyes: True Tales of Adventure, Travel and Fly-Fishing (April 2007)
- Every Day Was Special: A Fly Fisher's Lifelong Passion (May 2010)
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- William G. Tapply's official web site
- BookReporter.com review of First Light
- HippoPress review of First Light
- BookPage review of A Fine Line
- The Mystery Reader review of Shadow of Death
- Book Page review of Shadow of Death
- MostlyFiction.com review of Bitch Creek
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About the Author:
William G. Tapply was a Lexington High School teacher and housemaster until 1990. Since 1992 he has been an editorial associate for the Writer's Digest School. He currently teaches at Emerson College and Clark University and continues to write. His first Brady Coyne mystery, Death at Charity's Point, won the 1984 Scribner Crime Novel Award. Tapply was also a contributing editor to Field and Stream magazine and is a noted writer on fishing and the outdoors. He lived in Harvard, Massachusetts. He has three adult children.
Wiliam Tapply died July 28, 2009.