The last time I read a book by William DeAndrea, I walked away disappointed. Cronus was highly unlike the other DeAndreas I’ve read— it was a paranoia-fuelled and painfully average Cold War thriller. It was wonderful, then, to return to Matt Cobb, DeAndrea’s main series character. Killed in the Act was the second Matt Cobb mystery, right after the Edgar -winning Killed in the Ratings. Cobb is a fusion between the classic GAD investigator and the hardboiled, private eye: he speaks in the hardboiled voice, but he’s not a private detective by trade, and in fact, he seems to suffer from a severe case of J. B. Fletcher Syndrome.
Matt Cobb is Vice-President of Special Projects at The Network, a major television broadcaster like NBC or CBS. His job is basically to handle tricky situations and make sure The Network comes out of it with a squeaky-clean reputation. The way he speaks reminds me uncannily of Archie Goodwin—like Archie, he speaks with the voice of the private eye without the negative qualities. Yes, he can make sarcastic comments in his head, but he doesn’t make it a governing staple of his life to be rude to everyone he meets, and this quality makes him a likeable character, the kind of guy you want to win in the end.
Killed in the Act is a fun tale. Matt Cobb is pulled through a series of events that makes The Nameless Detective’s week in Scattershot look like a holiday. The Network is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion, they’re pulling together a live extravaganza. Plenty of talents from The Network’s history (from its radio days to the present) are coming together to perform and to be interviewed by The Anchorman. Among these are Melanie Marliss (the current sex queen in Hollywood), Ken Shelby and Lenny Green (a legendary magic/comedy team), and Alice Brockway (Shelby’s wife, whose character on a sitcom was young Matt Cobb’s first crush).
The party doesn’t exactly start very well, as an investigative reporter was found dead in the Shelbys’ swimming pool right before they flew out to New York. Suddenly, all hash-e-lul-squared breaks loose. Melanie Marliss’ famous bowling ball is stolen, and a thief makes away with a bunch of old kinescopes from the 50s. Matt Cobb’s friend, Jerry de Loon, was hit on the head during the theft and seemed fine, but complications arose in the hospital. One minute, Jerry is telling Matt what happened, and the next he’s slumped over and will never get up again.
Cobb doesn’t take this well and sets out to solve the mystery and avenge Jerry’s murder. Who is the Phantom of the Network? The mysterious events don’t stop there, as Cobb sends one of his subordinates to Costa Rica to follow up on a lead, and it seems that comedy duo Shelby & Green are being targeted by the murderous mystery figure. Death threats, Russian spies, and office politics keep complicating the matter until it reaches a genuinely surprising ending, where DeAndrea uses a brilliant trick of a type that I simply adore.
Once again, DeAndrea’s love of climatic gun-shootouts is used in the climax, and there’s a brilliant final twist I should have seen coming, since it was mentioned in Killed on the Rocks. However, when I read Killed on the Rocks, I focused as little as possible on the names mentioned, and I’m glad to see the strategy worked: I no longer remember what it was that was spoiled for me! (Still, the reader is warned.)
This is a surprisingly complex book. There’s plenty of plot to sink your teeth into, and twists keep jumping out at you when you least expect them. It’s an excellently written book, with an endearing character you want to see coming out on top at the end. This is the William DeAndrea I’m used to seeing!