Truth is deadlier than fiction in this “sleek, sophisticated, over-the-top story that’s filled with red herrings, laugh-aloud humor, and plenty of suspense” (Booklist).
The author calls himself the Answer Man. He introduces himself to Stewart Hoag—onetime literary darling of the New York scene—with a letter begging for help with his first novel. Hoagy usually ignores such requests, but the Answer Man’s sample chapter grabs his attention. It is a chilling, first-person story about a man who picks up a girl in a pet shop, takes her home, and savagely murders her. The imagery is clear, the prose strong, and the storytelling as truthful as though the author had actually lived it. When he opens the next morning’s paper, Hoagy realizes he was reading nonfiction. A young pet shop employee has been bludgeoned to death, and the crime’s details match those in the manuscript. As the Answer Man keeps killing, he continues writing letters asking Hoagy to collaborate with him. If Hoagy can’t stop him soon, he may find himself starring in the book’s next chapter.
The eighth in the series about sleuthing celebrity ghostwriter Stewart "Hoagy" Hoag is subpar for Edgar-winner Handler (The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald). The edgy-bitchy dialogue has become forced and jarring; the details of Hoagy's elaborate wardrobe and lifestyle sag from overuse; the putative villain, on the scene early and obviously, can only be a red herring. Hoagy's colorful life in Manhattan is careening along with his ex-wife, Merilee (they're divorced but living together), his 18-month-old daughter, Tracy, and his aging basset hound, Lulu. Then he receives part of a manuscript from a writer who calls himself the Answer Man and wants Hoagy to collaborate on a book. The first chapter describes the stalking and murder of a young woman who runs a pet-supply store. When a victim of the same description and occupation turns up dead in Riverside Park, Hoagy knows he's in trouble. As the chapters from the Answer Man keep arriving, matching murders keep occurring. In the story, Hoagy spots clues that suggest that the writer/killer just might be his old college chum Tuttle Cash, a former athlete with a history of violence. Since this revelation comes to Hoagy about one-quarter of the way into the tale, readers can expect either a false alarm or one of the longest chases in mystery history. By the time Handler reveals the answer, all but diehard Hoagy fans will have given up.