Author Lawrence Sanders, who first came to prominence with more gory offerings such as the First to the Fourth Deadly Sins series, has since embarked on a lighter mode of mysteries with the Archy McNally series.
Archy McNally is a conceited, self-promoting, would-be playboy zipping around West Palm Beach in his red Mazda Miata, working for his father under the most respectable legal firm of McNally & Son. Archy, however, is not a legal eagle, having been expelled from Yale Law school due to a “streaking incident” as he explains it. Instead Archy is employed by his father’s firm to conduct “discreet inquiries” on behalf of the firm’s wealthy clients who are sometimes caught in compromising situations.
Despite these flaws and the world of wealthy privilege, if not outright snobbery, he comes from, Archy is still quite likable as a protagonist, helped no doubt by his sense of humour.
In this installment of Archy’s chronicles, he finds himself embroiled in investigating the improbable and most inconvenient murder of a busboy, which happens during a lavish benefit party attended by the wealthiest of the Palm Beach society that Archy is attending on behalf of his illustrious father.
To complicate matters, Archy is also asked to verify the identity of a suddenly re-appeared heir to a vast fortune. Throw in a muck-racking journalist from the Big Apple, who pretends to be looking for an exposé of the decadence of the town, but is actually looking into a potential blackmail scheme, and soon the reader realizes that all of these little puzzles will converge into one giant mystery.
Despite the premise, Sanders has crafted a light-hearted tale without any gory details. Interspersed with Archy’s dalliances, present and past, are various love interests and a number of characters who are not who they are purported to be or where they were supposed to be at crucial times.
Through Archy’s extensive use of high-faluting language and overly quoted past witticisms, Sanders offers a glimpse into the world and minds of these scions of old money and that of the “nouveau riche”, including how they view the rest of the world, the poor plebes, if you will.
There is even an oblique reference to a real estate magnate purchasing Mar-a-Lago and being shunned by the local gentry. How many parallels do you need to envision former United States President Donald Trump as that character?
Of course, through some good luck, and with the help of a number of people he regards as his lesser assistants, Archy manages to solve these puzzles, but not without losing one more innocent person thanks to the misdeeds of the miscreants.
As for the identity of the newly-discovered heir to the fortune of a recently deceased dowager, we after a roller coaster ride Archy identifies the possible rightful heir. A missing toe points to his being exactly who he says he is, but there remains one tantalizing hurdle. The supposed heir is right-handed whereas the real person should be a lefty, and that alone is enough to alert Archy that something remains amiss.
In the end, not only is the would-be heir an impostor, but partly to blame for the demise of both victims. But to uncover the murderer(s), Archy, along with the local police department, has to gamble with the life a yet another potential victim.
In the end, Archy successfully solves the overall mystery and remains somewhat wiser but dissatisfied in matters involving his love life. Most importantly, however, he has satisfied his boss and father, the titular head of the McNally & Son legal firm. It’s another win for Archy, and for the readers who have accompanied him in Sanders’ fun little world.
I would give this book a strong 4.5 stars, and having read most of the McNally chronicles, I would not hesitate to recommend them all with a similar rating.
Gerald J. Roy is a former Federal Human Rights mediator and educator who taught at various schools around the Southwest Coast. Originally from Québec, he has retired to Port aux Basques to be near his family. His voracious book reading appetite trends towards westerns, spy novels, thrillers and mysteries. You can find him on Facebook or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.