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by John Gapper
Gerald Duckworh, September 2012
288 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0715643649

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ben Cowper is a psychiatrist working at the Episcopal Hospital in New York. When disgraced financier Harold Shapiro is brought in by his wife Nora, concerned as to his depressed state, Ben takes the case. Normally he would be inclined to retain his patient in a secure facility, but is persuaded to release him under pressure from Sarah Duncan, Episcopal's administrator, who stresses the Shapiros' huge donations to the hospital.

When Shapiro is soon arrested for murder of the Wall Street fat cat Marcus Greene, Ben blames himself - and so do Duncan and Greene's wife. The police think that Shapiro's hospital admission was a device to provide a defence in what was a pre-planned murder, with Ben as accomplice or dupe. If Ben is to recover his reputation and career, he needs to find out what has really been going on.

A FATAL DEBT has a style reminiscent of that of classic private eye crime writers, such as Chandler or Hammett, evidenced by the dispassionate way the protagonist narrator reveals his thoughts in depth on some subjects, but conceals them on others. The plot is cleverly constructed and holds interest to the final page. As Ben's investigations proceed, the characters of the several persons involved in events are developed in an interesting and believable way, with the possible exception of the villain of the piece - but villains are always problematic.

There are two special areas of interest. One is the setting of the motivation for the murder within the modern financial world. This is an area in which John Gapper is an expert: a convincing picture is presented of the offices and homes and machinations of the financial wizards currently regarded with such dislike, and he makes an admirable effort to explain the financial shenanigans incorporated into the plot, although some including this reader - will still find parts of their operations mystifying.

The above minor reservation is unlikely to discourage readers given the undoubted quality of A FATAL DEBT. Successive revelations drive the book along at a rapid pace, building to an exciting conclusion. Gapper displays great confidence in his handling of the story and the seamless integration of various subsidiary components including his family, ex-girlfriend and the emerging romance with one of the group of people who have contributed to his problems. This is an impressive first novel from Gapper that will leave readers hungry for more.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, September 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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