‘Penance’ by David Housewright


Holland Taylor, now a private investigator in St. Paul, had been a longtime homicide detective there. After his wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver, constantly dealing with death was just too much. After discovering that the bottle wasn’t the answer, he drew on his previous experience and skills to find a related way to make a living. This worked out quite well when a couple of high-profile cases got him some press coverage and regular business. Mostly he dealt with domestic problems and corporate fraud, intentionally not with cases where murder was likely to be involved. Because of his abhorrence of death, he felt that he did not want to be the cause of another one, so he had quit carrying a gun.

Taylor had been rudely awakened by the police and taken to the station for questioning. After a brow beating by an assistant district attorney, he finally learned that the reason was that John Brown, the man responsible for the death of his wife and daughter, had been murdered. Unfortunately, a grieving Taylor had made a number of threats at the end of the trial. Made aware that losing his license was possibility, he cooperated. After the interrogation, he was set free. Taylor decided that the best way to deal with the situation was to find the actual killer.

As one would expect, the situation is more complicated than it first appears. Taylor started his search by looking up the attorney who had represented Brown four years ago. Cynthia Grey, the attorney, explained that Brown had recently been released to a halfway house. Investigation at the halfway house led to the knowledge that Brown had left in the company of Joseph Herman and that their location was unknown.

The search for Brown’s killer was interrupted by the fact that Taylor had a paying customer. C.C. Monroe, one of three candidates running for governor, apparently had a need for his services. Currently a Minnesota representative, she was a champion of women’s issues and looked likely to win the race, as the two men had questionable political records. Marion Senske was the political operative behind C.C., and it was she who had contacted Taylor. It turned out that C.C. had been filmed in a compromising situation and she was being blackmailed for $10,000. Senske was going to pay the money, but they needed someone to deliver it and to see that that was the end of it. The fee was good, so Taylor reluctantly accepted the job.

It’s about now that things start to get really complicated. Not only is Joseph Herman found dead, but the blackmailer also has been murdered before Taylor gets there. And the police arrive shortly after Taylor does. How does all this relate to his original quest to find Brown’s killer, or does it? There is a lot to work through, and it must be done in a manner that will protect the detective license.

As an aside, David Housewright cleverly works in an occasional personal observation. 

“I remembered counting farm animals when I was a kid, inflating totals to better my brother’s count.” 

“I don’t like the suburbs, probably because I don’t feel comfortable there and I don’t understand how other people feel comfortable there. There’s no connection between the place and the residents, no sense of community.”

“The only thing fast food had going for it in the past was that it was both fast and cheap, and these days it is neither.”

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