(Tenth in the Carlotta Carlyle series)
St. Martin's Minotaur
A blackmailed Harvard professor calls on shamus Carlotta Carlyle because he thinks his world is falling apart. Medical/educational researcher Wilson Chaney is not eager to get fired over the torrid letters he wrote Denali Brinkman, a white freshman, during an affair he insists ended even before her suicide in the Harvard boathouse. Carlotta soon identifies Denali's boyfriend, ex-con Benjy Dowling, as the perp during an unauthorized visit to his apartment that nets all the letters. Then Benjy's killed by a hit-and-run driver behind the wheel of Chaney's own car. It's only then that the case starts to assume its true proportions, as Carlotta gradually teases out the tangle of drug trials, fraud, civil suits, and murder that links Chaney, his wealthy and imperious wife, a porous security firm, and the venerable university. But it's not until the last act, just when other cases would be winding down, that this one sends out a shower of fresh sparks that make it bold, powerful, and shattering.
Mystery News Review, April 1, 2004
This is the tenth book in the series about Carlotta Carlyle, Boston private investigator. Carlyle is often referred to as the taxi-driver P.I., but her days as a driver are winding down in the last few books. She still is responsible for her
little sister Paolina, but that takes a back seat in this story as well.
When an African-American Harvard professor named Wilson Chaney is blackmailed over his affair with this student Denali Brinkman, he hires Carlotta to stop the threat. Denali was a lonely Native American student, finding solace as a single sculler and eventually illegally moving into the boathouse to avoid her dorm mates. What shocks Carlyle is that Denali committed suicide by immolation, taking the boathouse with her.
So the big question becomes who knew about the affair and how did they get Chaney’s incriminating letters? And, what to make of Denali’s boyfriend, an ex-con named Benjy Dowling who is eventually killed by a hit and run driver.
Often authors work so hard to make their stories convoluted that credibility gets lost. The good news is the opposite happens here. Barnes skillfully trusts her plot. She mixes in major power players like Harvard University and the pharmaceutical industry. She weaves in the dilemma of race relations in America. Barnes manages her series secondary characters without allowing their involvement in the case to seem contrived. Then she places her detective in a situation where Carlotta must make the ultimate decision: whether to be both judge and executioner. With a skillful hand that does not waver she has written the best book in this series and one I believe will stand the test of being listed as a classic in the P.I.
— Gary Warren Niebuhr
Bookpage Review Mystery of the month
The March 2004 tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to Boston author Linda Barnes for her excellent new novel Deep Pockets (Minotaur $24.95, 320 pages, ISBN 0312282710).
Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle plies her trade in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fresh from her exploits in 2002's The Big Dig (referring to the seemingly endless subway construction project that has paralyzed downtown Boston for years), the zaftig (6'1") Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing the blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor. It seems that the professor, a married man, has been carrying on with one of his students. The affair had about run its course when the girl turned up dead, burned so badly in a boathouse fire that she could be identified only by dental records. The prof is saddened, naturally, but in a larger sense relieved. Then the first blackmail note arrives, attached to one of several love letters that passed between the academician and his paramour. That would be bad enough, in the grand scheme of things, but it gets worse. The blackmailer is killed in a hit-and-run accident, run over by the professor's car. In quick succession, probable cause is established, an alibi is called into question and the professor is arrested. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover some shred of evidence to support this.
Fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series will enjoy the works of Linda Barnes; Carlotta and Stephanie are twin daughters of different parents. Carlotta is the more serious of the two, less quirky and eclectic, but similarly insightful, particularly about the seamier side of life. Lifelike characters, great sense of location and page-turning suspense are among Barnes' many strengths as a writer. (P.S. Don't look at the last page; there is a cute surprise in store!)
In her 10th robust Carlotta Carlyle mystery (after 2002's The Big Dig), Barnes weaves an intricate web with a pleasingly poisonous spider at its center. African-American Harvard professor Wilson Chaney asks Boston PI Carlotta for help because someone is blackmailing him over his affair with Delani Brinkman, a seductive Harvard rowing star. When Delani turns up dead in a boathouse on the Charles, incinerated on a gasoline-soaked futon, a note left by the victim suggests suicide. But Brinkman herself remains quite the puzzle — a loner who slept with her kayak in her room, then abandoned her dorm to camp in the university boathouse:
Her mother was an American Indian.... Her father was Swiss, but she didn't learn that until much later. She had no brothers and sisters. She never went hungry, but there wasn't much kindness in her life. When Delani's ex-con boyfriend is killed by a hit-run driver on a dark city street, suspicion points back to the urbane Professor Chaney — or does it? Almost every character carries a secret, including Carlotta, who's gingerly resuming her romance with a charming Mafioso. If a couple of red herrings aren't fully explained, Barnes makes superb use of town-gown tensions and the contrasting worlds of Harvard bureaucrats, blue-collar cons, the Brattle Street swells and more. The twists and turns in this nail-biter are at once startling without ever becoming absurd.
REVIEWINGTHEEVIDENCE.COM Review, April 2004
Linda Barnes' THE BIG DIG is on my 'top mysteries of 2003' list and I'm happy to report that DEEP POCKETS is a worthy successor. In Carlotta Carlyle, Barnes has created a protagonist who continues to hold my interest, and her stories seem to get better with each book.
In DEEP POCKETS, the crime is blackmail: a man with a lot to lose is trying to hold on to his marriage and his career, which will be in jeopardy if word got out about his affair. It seems like a pretty straightforward situation, but it's not. Wilson Chaney's affair was with a student, the uniquely named Denali Brinkman. He's a professor at Harvard; the student died in a fire but the letters are still out there, and Chaney needs Carlotta to discover who's blackmailing him and stop it. And the more Carlotta looks for answers, the harder they are to find.
Among the questions are 'who exactly was Denali Brinkman and where did she come from? Is she what she appeared to be?' As Carlotta learns more and more, about Chaney, about Brinkman, about some of Chaney's research, the more complicated the story and, in fact, the more dangerous things become.
Carlotta plays it sometimes unsafe; she goes in rather than waiting for help, she tends to welcome some risks, and her idea of back-up is often Roz, the artist who lives upstairs and doesn't, shall we say, live the straight and narrow life. There's also Gloria who owns the cab company (once Green and White now it's Marvin's Magnificent Cabs, aka 'black and blue' alas, for the new color scheme) and who still champions Carlotta's relationship with Sam Gianelli.
And then there’s Sam. What Barnes has created here is fascinating; Carlotta’s smart enough to know that she’s better off with the very attractive Leon, with whom she got involved during the last big case. Even if Leon is black (in Boston, as in most places, a white woman dating a black man is still very much an issue) he’s still a safer bet than Sam, whose family IS the mob in Boston. But she can’t help it; it always comes back to Sam. He’s sexy, he cares, he understands Carlotta better than almost anyone. Neither can he seem to give her up. And he’s not a good idea.
That weakness is one of the most interesting parts of these books for me; seeing an otherwise smart woman doing something she knows she shouldn’t do, but can’t help. For anyone who’s ever desired someone, or something that might not have been good for them, but was oh so tempting, Carlotta’s dilemma might seem familiar. I can’t decide whether to cheer her on not; Carlotta knows it’s wrong but, he does care and he is good to her and as says: “He was who he was and I was who I was, but what was the use pretending I didn’t love him? What was the point in denying it?” It’s tough to watch, but completely believable and bittersweet.
— Andi Shechter
Tulsa World Review, May 23, 2004
Harvard professor Wilson Chaney is being blackmailed.
He had an affair with Denali Brinkman, who was a freshman in his introductory educational psychology class and a champion rower. Chaney could lose everything — his wealthy wife, his tenure and his work on a new ADHD drug.
Chaney decides Carlotta Carlyle is the best P.I. for the job. She takes the case and finds out that Chaney has not told her everything she needs to know, including the fact that Denali has died in a fire. Carlotta locates the suspected blackmailer, only to have him die in a hit-and-run with Chaney's stolen vehicle.
This case has too many coincidences to suit Carlotta, so she digs even deeper into the girl's past and Chaney's work. What she learns could get her killed.
Carlotta is cut from the same cloth as Kinsey Milhone and V.I. Warshawski and is just as entertaining.
— Michele Patterson, librarian at the Schusterman-Benson Library
Kirkus / Hollywood Reporter Review, May 10, 2004
The biggest mystery about American mystery series is why so few of them ever get optioned. The Brits are perfectly happy to cuddle in front of the telly with Adam Dalgleish, Jane Tennison and inspector Morse — and so, it seems, are we, courtesy of British imports. In the hope of bringing American television crime back home where it belongs, here are some homegrown series detectives ripe for adaptation.
Linda Barnes' Amazonian cab driver Carlotta Carlyle has been plying Boston's mean streets for more than 20 years. In her 10th case, 'Deep Pockets' (St Martin's Minotaur), Harvard professor Wilson Chaney wants Carlotta to save his career from a blackmailer who is threatening to go public with the torrid letters Chaney wrote to a white student before her suicide. The interracial romance, of course, turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg. Carlotta has to sift through fraudulent drug trials, murder and her client's sordid past before she can confront an unexpected killer in a white-hot finale.