STARRED REVIEW
February 17, 2015

The show must go on

By David Handler
Review by

Crime fiction groupies can usually form a pretty quick mental picture of the cop, PI or little old lady detective in any new mystery novel, and that take remains, embedded in the reader’s imagination, for the duration of the story.

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Crime fiction groupies can usually form a pretty quick mental picture of the cop, PI or little old lady detective in any new mystery novel, and that take remains, embedded in the reader’s imagination, for the duration of the story.

In David Handler’s new series, however, it’s not easy to get a handle on Benji, whose feet meet the street for Golden Legal Services, a mom-and-son detective agency in NYC. He’s barely five-foot-six, with a baby face that looks younger than his 25 years, and he tends toward madras shorts and Converse high-tops. Still, the mental image is elusive and doesn’t intrude in the mind like Sam Spade or Hercule Poirot. Maybe it’s to Benji’s advantage, as he searches out the bad guys in Phantom Angel.

Back by popular demand after 2013’s Runaway Man, Benji is hired by aging producer and showman Morrie Frankel to find his missing “angel,” a financial backer who emerges to support—or save—a Broadway show, and who supposedly functions as an incentive for other would-be backers to pony up some cash. Morrie claims his angel is a hedge fund billionaire named R.J. Farnell, but “phantom” becomes the operative word when Farnell goes missing. Besides cultivating hedge fund managers, Morrie is in deep to the Joe Minetta crime family, who also back shows—for a hefty price. If Farnell isn’t found, Morrie claims his Broadway version of Wuthering Heights will never make it to the stage—not to mention he’ll have to watch out for Minetta’s goons.

Benji’s investigation leads to the doorstep of Farnell’s supposed girlfriend, a 19-year-old cutie nicknamed Boso. But Boso’s career as a webcam bimbo connects her to organized crime and—surprise, surprise—Minetta’s organization, and when Morrie is murdered in broad daylight on a New York street, Benji must penetrate the surface glitz to separate the good guys from the bad.

Handler’s strength lies in his stable of marvelous characters, who could be straight out of a Damon Runyon story: Benji’s mother, Hattie, retired pole dancer; Rita, his gorgeous co-worker and former erotic performer; and Cricket, an online huckster for whom no item of gossip is too sleazy.

The author has notched another urban treat full of opportunistic Broadway producers, grabby wannabe stars and the hardscrabble world of mob connections. In this book, as in New York City, it ain’t movin’ unless it’s movin’ fast.

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Phantom Angel

Phantom Angel

By David Handler
Minotaur
ISBN 9781250059734

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