Mystery buffs love series – Hercule Poirot, Stephanie Plum and Archy McNally have made countless millions for their creators, living or dead.
Cortez author Chuck Greaves hopes the formula works for him, too, but he is only on second book of the Jack MacTaggart series. Green-Eyed Lady is a sequel to Greaves’ Hush Money, which features the fictional lawyer who fights the good fight to defend the pure and innocent against the machines of big business and politics.
Although in this case, there’s nothing pure, just innocent, about MacTaggart’s client. I haven’t read Hush Money (it’s on my summer reading list), so I don’t know how it compares to the sequel, but Green-Eyed Lady stands on its own as a top-notch mystery.
One must be careful when reviewing mysteries. A synopsis of anything more than the first few chapters is more of a disservice to readers. But the close-knit and demanding community of mystery enthusiasts is not a group that suffers fools gladly and few things are more disappointing to us than a poorly constructed whodunnit.
Fortunately, that is not an issue for Greaves, who signed on with Minotaur books/St. Martin’s Press. He may be a local author, but he lived the life of a courtroom lawyer for years.
He’s not a wannabe writer who decided to self-publish a book in his retirement; he’s a polished and talented storyteller with an army of editors behind him. Say what you will about the industry, but there is strength in numbers when it comes to making a good book.
In Green-Eyed Lady, MacTaggart must defend a U.S. Senatorial candidate from a well-conceived frame job that quickly leads from skirt-chasing embarrassment to murder. MacTaggart, as the narrator and protagonist, is at times stereotypical in that wise-cracking, sardonic manner common among literary gumshoes, but he stops far short of falling into a caricature of the role, á la Sam Spade. And there’s no white-washing of the vernacular, either: when MacTaggart means “f-you” he says “f-you.” If Green-Eyed Lady was a movie, it would probably have a PG-13 rating.
Greaves set the story in his comfort zone of Southern California, where he practiced law for 25 years. He knows the good and bad that Los Angeles has to offer. That intimate knowledge adds to the authenticity and quality of the story.
Readers who don’t know the difference between South Central and San Marino will have a better understanding of the social stratification of L.A. by the end. What won’t change for most is the perception of big-time politics in America. There’s little to admire in the character of those who seek high office, and Greaves isn’t afraid to expose the void.
Greaves is close to breaking through as a first-rate mystery writer – and Jack MacTaggart is the man who’ll take him there. Bring on book number three.