THE BIG DIG
(Ninth in the Carlotta Carlyle series)
St. Martin's Minotaur
Carlotta Carlyle thought that working undercover searching out fraud on Boston's Big Dig would be a challenging assignment. After all, the Big Dig, the creation of a central artery tunnel running beneath crowded downtown Boston, is an engineering marvel, the largest urban construction project in modern history, and a $14 billion boondoggle in the eyes of protestors. But playing a mild-mannered secretary working out of a construction trailer is not quite the thrill ride she had in mind. Carlotta decides to moonlight, taking on a missing-persons case, but the search for Veronica James turns up one dead end after another. So do her fraud investigations on the Dig, and soon it looks like Carlotta has dug herself one big hole. But then a break-in at Veronica's, coupled with the mysterious death of a construction worker on one of the sites stirs up a storm, and soon enough Carlotta is in over her head in more ways than one.
THE BIG DIG
New York Times
"A shrewd piece of writing, well researched and smartly told."
More than a decade into the painful $15 billion reconstruction of their beautiful city, Bostonians are still aghast at the magnitude of the chaos (can anyone even find South Station?) and quick to believe every rumor about rampant mismanagement and fiscal corruption on the mammoth central artery and tunnel project that everyone calls
The Big Dig. Linda Barnes goes right to the heart of that paranoia in her new Carlotta Carlyle mystery, THE BIG DIG (St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95), sending her six-foot redheaded private eye undercover as a secretary on a construction site where rumors are flying about equipment walking off the site and excavated tunnel dirt being spirited away. It seems like penny-ante stuff to Carlyle, until a construction worker is killed and the contractor's wife goes a little crazy.
Burrowing into the underground depths of the Dig, Barnes captures that eerie sense of dislocation felt on large construction sites, the feeling of being a member of a lost civilization, trapped in this pit that time forgot. Things get pretty exciting aboveground as well, once Barnes develops a subplot about a dog lover who disappears from her Beacon Hill home, abandoning her Norwegian elkhound and all her charges at the kennel where she works. Pulling the two plot lines together is a bit of a reach; but all in all, this is a shrewd piece of writing, well researched and smartly told.
— Marilyn Stasio
The taut ninth entry in Barnes's Carlyle series concerns malfeasance at Boston's Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project,
the biggest urban construction project in the history of the modern world, an engineering marvel and a multibillion-dollar opportunity for graft, kickbacks and political favors. Wounded in the thigh from a gunshot during her last case (1999's Flashpoint) and in the heart from a romance with a rising Mafia don, Carlyle poses as a secretary to find what's rotten at a Big Dig contractor, Horgan Construction. A disgruntled hardhat falls to his death — or is he pushed? Someone seems to be stealing dirt from the site. The boss's wife has a horrible case of nerves. Just as Carlyle feels stymied at the Big Dig, she's diverted by a second, more lucrative case — Dana Endicott, a Boston Brahmin, begs her to find her missing tenant, Veronica James, whose fate seems tied to an oddly silent kennel. Carlyle is immensely likable, tough without being hard, flawed in more ways than the average mean streets sleuth. Barnes makes excellent use of Boston's ethnic and economic fiefdoms: the waterfront with its yuppies guzzling designer beer; South Boston, where despair clings to its citizens like the aluminum siding to their decrepit houses. The many plot threads are abruptly but satisfyingly tied up with writing that's vivid, economical and fun. Carlyle thinks:
This business, this art, of deception, of keeping daily secrets, hiding a side of your personality, intrigued me. It intrigues my readers, too. (Nov. 1)
Forecast: A big push from the publisher, including an author tour and national print advertising, could help bring Barnes the kind of sales associated with mysteries featuring better known women sleuths — or with that other Boston female PI, B. Parker's Sunny Randall.
Kirkus Reviews, Nov. 11, 2002
The bills that lone-wolf shamus Carlotta Carlyle's been wrestling soften her up for Happy Eddie Conklin's invitation to go undercover for Foundation Security. As a secretary/gofer in one of the Site offices of Horgan Construction's contribution to Boston's mammoth Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project, she's supposed to nose out what Eddie, spurred by an onsite tipster, calls
stuff going on.... Graft. Fraud. But the gossipy inquiries she launches go no further than a rumor that somebody is selling dirt; she realizes that she's landed the job for reasons that have nothing to do with her professional skills; her persistent questions about Krissi Morgan, the precocious but unseen daughters of well-connected head honchos Gerry and Liz Horgan, get her fired by the boss lady herself; meantime, the informant is killed in a fall from a scaffold. Luckily, Carlota's picked up a second case in the interim: the disappearance of dog groomer Veronica James, whose society landlady, Dana Endicott, is sure she would never have taken off for good in the Jeep Dana offered her without taking Tandy, her beloved Norwegian wolfhound. The two cases — suspected construction fraud and a demonstrably missing person - have so little to do with each other that they must be connected, and watching Carlotta tease out their deep, disturbing connections is pure pleasure.
It hardly matters that the heroine's usual menagerie, mobbed-up ex-lover Sam Gianette to
little sister Paolina, is kept well in the background. Carlotta (Flashpoint, 1999, etc.) can carry this ninth case all by herself.
Toronto Globe & Mail
Anyone who knows about Boston's buried freeway, known unaffectionately as the Big Dig, marvels at how much money can be stuffed into a hole in the ground. In the ninth of this series, the city wants PI Carlotta Carlyle to go undercover and search for evidence of fraud. Can a six-foot redhead pass herself off as a mild-mannered secretary? While Carlotta awaits her chance to uncover graft, she takes on a missing-person case. Just when both cases seem to be going nowhere, a murder occurs, and Carlotta finds that the Big Dig could turn out to be her grave. This book is fast, funny and very smart.
"P.I. Carlyle goes underground in Boston and gets the dirt on the bad guys"
P.I. Carlotta Carlyle returns and takes on the mammoth public works project in Boston known as the Big Dig. It's her biggest case to date and also the best.
The City of Boston is burying its streets. With the creation of eight miles of tunnels and highways, everyone will be routed under the city, the air in the tunnels will be purified, pollution will be cleaned up and parks will be planted above ground where roads used to be.
The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project in Boston, nicknamed
The Big Dig, is the biggest public works project in the United States, and its hemorrhaging money.
All this is being done while keeping the city open for business. One Dig boss compares it to doing
open-heart surgery while the patient plays tournament tennis.
Enter Carlotta Carlyle, a 6-foot-1 red-headed Boston private investigator, former cop and sometime cabbie. Yes, Carlotta Carlyle fans, she is finally back in
The Big Dig. (Barnes mailed the manuscript for her mystery to her publisher September 10, 2001. Her story of sabotage and mayhem, based on the construction project in Boston, could not have come at a more politically sensitive time; hence the delay in publication.)
I usually adhere to the
read-them-in-order theory for a book series. However, for those of you who have never read Barnes, it's OK to start with this one.
The Big Dig is a tight, self-contained stand-alone mystery for those new to the series, and a very satisfying continuation of it for those already Carlotta Carlyle fans.
Carlyle is between jobs and bills when Happy Eddie Conklin, a former-cop pal, contacts her about going undercover at the Dig. Something is going on down there.
Really, the very idea that a project okayed by the federal government in 1987 at a price tag of 2.6 billion, and currently playing at fourteen billion bucks and counting, might have graft and fraud associated with its execution . . . I was shocked, simply shocked" Carlyle muses.
Conklin wants her to keep her eyes and ears open, but doesn't really tell her what to keep them open for. She dyes her flame-red locks mousey brown, and heads to a job site as
Carla, a new temp agency secretary for Horgan Construction. A local company with major political pull, owned by Gerry and Liz, his edgy wife.
Carlyle befriends Gerry's secretary, Marion, about both the Horgans' daughter and their dog-sits. Carlotta's snooping about at the vet's office to find out about the dog for Marian ultimately gets her another paying job.
little sister Paolina reveals to a distraught woman at the vet's that Carlyle is a private investigator and might be able to help her. Dana Endicott approaches her, and implores her to find her missing renter.
Irritated by the lack of information from Eddie Conklin, and the realization that she'd been tapped for the Dig job because of her former affiliation with a mob boss' son, she takes on the second job. She likes missing persons cases, likes
Studying what isn't there, observing air current disturbances caused by the absence of a body in space. What first appears to be a simple case of a roomer stealing a car and leaving without a word takes quite a different turn.
Then things start disappearing from the Dig job site and a fraud hotline gets anonymous tips about Horgan. Though they get way behind schedule, the Horgans refuse to put their crews on a 24/7 work schedule. The workers are restless, and tensions run high. Accidents happen. Carlyle seems to be the only one who doesn't think they're accidents. With Patriot's Day approaching, and the threat of something dire involving that date looming large, the clock is ticking for Carlyle to figure out who is doing what to whom, and where her missing person went.
Reading about the Dig itself is fascinating, and Barnes has done her home work. She lives in Boston, and brings the whole project alive for the reader. She is a master at characterization, and intricate, believable plots. One can never be sure whether this is a work of fiction or fact. The intertwining of threads in
The Big Dig is so nuanced that it sneaks up on you, and you'll delight in the fabric that cleverly unfolds. With each subsequent Carlotta Carlyle book, we have a deeper look at a very human P.I., who has skill, brains and moxie. Every Carlyle book is a good read, but this is the biggest case of her career, and the best Carlotta Carlyle yet.
— Nancy Moline
The Boston Globe (article)
"Another case, and she's digging around for ideas"
When Linda Barnes started roaming around Big Dig construction sites, picking up background for her new mystery novel, she always carried a clipboard.
A construction worker would always ask me where I was from, like I was from an engineering firm or a highway consultant,she said. "And I'd ask them what they were doing.
Then, as she spent more time around the Big Dig,
everybody'd give you their card and I'd network.
And, she discovered as she got down into the sites themselves,
a hard hat and an orange vest provide a lot of anonymity.
The end result of her roaming around and networking is, appropriately enough,
The Big Dig, published this month by St. Martin's Press. It is Barnes's ninth mystery novel featuring her hardboiled private investigator, Carlotta Carlyle.
Over a mid-morning coffee around the block from where crews were working on the approaches to the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, Barnes noted that while all of the Carlotta Carlyle mysteries are set in and around Boston,
The Big Dig is the most topical — maybe even too topical — because of what happens in a tunnel that isn't supposed to be dug.
Without giving away the final plot-twist of
The Big Dig, Barnes said that
I felt terrible at the coincidence of having mailed the manuscript off to her editor on Sept. 10, 2001.
I still feel badly, but I don't blow up stuff here. I prevent things from being blown up.
As for the broad appeal of such a
site-specific mystery, Barnes said that
if it was my first book, maybe I'd be worried. But, she added,
people know Carlotta Carlyle and they like her. And don't taxpayers all across the country want to know where that $15 billion is going?
Writing mystery stories wasn't Barnes's original plan — and Carlotta Carlyle wasn't her first sleuth when she did start.
Barnes grew up in Detroit —
but we left for the suburbs when I was a teenager and tanks were rolling down the streets during the '60s riots, she said.
She came to Boston for college — to Boston University's School of Fine Arts — and never left. She lives now in Brookline with her husband, Richard, a technical consultant for the computer software firm Stratus Technologies, and their teenage son.
The original plan — the one that brought her to BU — was
to be a great Shakespearean actor. And while she has long since given up the theater, Barnes, at 5-foot-11, retains a commanding presence and accentuates her conversation with broad arm gestures that would carry into a theater's balcony.
And before any mystery novel, there were a couple of plays, written while she was teaching drama at high schools in Chelmsford, Lexington, and Brookline.
The first mysteries, four of them, involved a male sleuth, Michael Spraggue, who double as an actor.
When I first started, in the late '70s, women weren't writing mysteries about women, she said. "There were a couple of men who wrote about hard-boiled women and women writing British-lady type mysteries. But I wanted to write about a hard-boiled woman and editors said it just wouldn't sell."
Barnes finally put Carlotta Carlyle — red-haired ex-Boston cop, sometime cabdriver, 6-foot-1 volleyball player — into a short story,
A number of magazines accepted it, but they all folded before they published it, she said.
When it finally did get published in 1985, and won a number of awards, my editor asked me why I hadn't written Carlotta into a novel, and I said, 'Because you told me not to.'
Barnes notes that it is interesting that a number of other women began publishing mystery novels featuring tough women characters about the same time — Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, among others.
A Trouble of Fools,with a plot line involving local IRA supporters and a lot of cab-driving locales, appeared in 1987 and was an Edgar nominee the following year. Eight more Carlotta Carlyles have appeared at two- to three-year intervals since then.
What Barnes describes as
a throw-away line in the first novel — a reference to Carlotta having to quit the police force in anguish over her killing a man in the line of duty — remains a subject to be explored in a future mystery.
I want to get back to that, Barnes said.
— Michael Kenney, Boston Globe Correspondent