Cop Job (Sam Acquillo Hampton Mysteries, Book Six)
“a PI novel that is as full-bodied as a fine bourbon and just as satisfying.”
Imagine Sam Spade in the Hamptons. Sam Acquillo may not resemble that more famous fictional character in occupation or home environment, but they could be identical twins in attitude.
Sam Acquillo is not a private detective, at least, not a licensed one. Formerly upper management in a large corporation in charge of research and development, Sam lost his job, his money, his house, his wife, who took their daughter with her when she left.
He tried to drown his sorrows, but learned there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to accomplish that self-destructive goal. “Now I’m a cabinetmaker working for a builder in Southampton, New York. I like this job better, though it doesn’t pay as well.”
Sam’s avocation of sticking his nose into criminal cases where it doesn’t belong doesn’t pay anything at all. With attorney Jackie Swaitkowski, who specializes in the hard-luck cases involving the hopeless and the helpless, watching his back in a legal sense, Sam ignores the efforts of the local police and District Attorney to keep him away from criminal cases. He is astute enough not to tell Jackie about some of his legally questionable investigative practices, such as entering homes or businesses without an invitation from the owners.
Mostly Sam’s life is satisfactory. He has Amanda, a girlfriend close to his own age, or close enough anyway, who lives next door; and an adopted dog of indeterminate breed named Eddie van Halen. “I feed him, give him shelter and complete freedom, and he lets me.” Eddie is one of the series’ most endearing characters without any need of dialog, and also illustrates a softer side to Sam than he presents to the outside world.
When wheelchair-bound, paranoid schizophrenic veteran Alfie Aldergreen is pulled from Hawk Pond, with duct tape still securing his legs, Sam and Jackie are determined to see justice done. Sam counts himself as a friend to the victim. “I’d spent a fair amount of time with the guy sitting next to his chair on a park bench drinking coffee I’d bought for the two of us.” Alfie often talked to people others couldn’t see, but he was harmless. To Jackie, Alfie was one her hopeless, helpless cases.
Both Sam and Jackie are shocked and surprised when Chief of Police Ross Semple informally invites them to investigate Alfie’s murder. “Just stay inside the legal lines—Jackie knows what they are—talk to us on a regular basis and don’t get in our way when things heat up.” There is something off about the invitation. Cops never ask civilians to mess around in murder cases.
Then District Attorney Edith Madison invites the two to her office for a conference. She shares the information that Alfie is—or was—a confidential informant for the police despite his mental condition. Furthermore, two other informants have also been murdered. The DA infers that there is something rotten in the police department, and she fears the murders will go unsolved, perhaps on purpose.
That the DA and her deputy, Oksana Quan, actually want Sam and Jackie to act as confidential informants themselves, also feels slightly off. “Edith Madison…once tried to put me away for murder. And even after the real guy confessed, I had firsthand knowledge that she still thought I was guilty.”
Sam begins his investigation by putting out fliers and questioning everyone who knew Alfie. He learns that all three murdered Cis knew one another, so it appears likely someone targeted all three because they were informants. In other words, they all knew too much. Alfie and one of the other victims had mentioned the cops in a round-about way. According to Chief Semple, large amounts of drugs were being funneled through the Hamptons. To Sam, the victims mentioning cops, plus drugs, plus the DA’s information, add up to possible corruption.
When Sam’s daughter, Allison, is nearly beaten to death in her New York City apartment, but nothing is stolen but her computer, and there is no sign of a break-in, Sam knows his stirring up the mud at the bottom of the corrupt cops—drug trafficking—murder of the CIs has made a target of his daughter. That Allison knows nothing of Sam’s investigation is beside the point. Someone thinks she does.
Cop Job by Chris Knopf is Noir at its best, with an uncommon setting—the Hamptons—and a cast of characters no fan of crime fiction can resist. Knopf describes the Hamptons in beautiful detail for those unacquainted with what many think is just a playground for the very wealthy. It is that, but also home to a variety of people not so wealthy, again made real by Knopf’s descriptive narrative. Although the character of Sam Acquillo occasionally veers too close to that of a stereotypical tough guy, the author always balances that image with Sam’s love for his daughter and for Amanda.
This is a PI novel that is as full-bodied as a fine bourbon and just as satisfying.