Jack Dwyer is a former cop who got the acting bug after he was cast in a local public safety commercial. He started acting lessons, quit his job, and applied for his private investigator’s license (in very nearly that order). He also took a security guard job to keep the wolves away. The novel opens with Dwyer on a riverside park murder site. He was called there by a panicked former girlfriend. A girlfriend who left him for another man, and a girlfriend Dwyer isn’t quite over.
The woman is nearly comatose when Dwyer arrives. She is distraught with grief and fear. The man who replaced Dwyer in her life is dead in the grass, and the gun that killed him is in her hand. The police arrive and everything fits neatly into a little package. No real investigation, other than into Jane Branigan—the girlfriend—and the case seems open and shut, but something about it bothers Dwyer. That something may be nothing more than his feelings for Jane, but Dwyer doesn’t think she did it.
New, Improved Murder is a seriously good private eye novel. Jack Dwyer is a likable, compassionate, sometimes self-doubting reluctant good guy, who tends to stand on the outside. He is working class top to bottom, and the world through his eyes is a harsh, troubled place, with just enough hope and romanticism to keep him from the maudlin.
The story is a straight shot. It is fast, dirty, and entertaining. The mystery is fine edged with enough clues for the reader to guess the killer, but nothing is in plain sight and it is doubtful most readers will guess it before the final pages. The supporting cast is a mixture of blackmailing psychopaths, prostitutes, nasty businessmen, broken children, and everyman scared; scared of life, death, and nearly everything else. The amazing thing, it is all this and funny, too. Not the story, or the characters, but rather Dwyer’s take on the world as seen through his semi-smart ass commentary and dialogue.