Peter Spiegelman

John March - Affluent Private Investigator, Financial Services, New York City

"Death's Little Helpers"

“As a husband, he was a lying, selfish prick,” Nina Sachs said, and lit yet another cigarette. Her silver lighter caught the late-April sun as it came through the big windows. She flicked a strand of auburn hair away from her face and blew a plume of smoke at the high ceiling. “And as a father, he’s no better. But he’s our meal ticket, Billy’s and mine, and if something’s happened to him—if the cash is going to stop—I want to know about it sooner, not later.”

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale SEP 5, 2005)

Death’s Little Helpers is Peter Spiegelman’s second book and the second featuring New York City private investigator John March. This first person narrative is rich in descriptive prose that really gets the reader to feel and sense the people and action in the book. For me though, this often came across a bit too descriptive and I sometimes had difficulty reading more than 10 pages at a time or finding the time to start reading the book again. This is more a reflection on my reading interests than in this well written book.

Artist Nina Sachs hires John March to find her ex-husband Gregory Danes, a famous Wall Street stock analyst who had fallen on recent hard times with the crash of some high tech stocks. Sachs doesn’t care about Danes; she just wants her alimony and child support. Sachs, an artist who lives with her son Billy and lover Ines Icasa, is annoying, impatient and demanding of March, especially as he has difficulty uncovering much trace of Danes. Billy Danes, who first comes across as an annoying and arrogant pre-teen version of both of his parents, ultimately does show some real concern for the loss of his father and March and Billy eventually bond.

John March travels all over New York and New Jersey trying to gather clues to Danes’ disappearance. He meets resistant almost everywhere he goes and finds that Danes was not an overly liked person perhaps as a result of his recent stock failures, both at his work for Pace-Loyette or even his relationship with most of his clients. Danes also has a half-brother in New Jersey in a tough situation with the Russian mob that apparently Danes would not help him improve. March also finds evidence of others looking for Danes and these others apparently aren’t too happy with March either as he finds himself and the people close to him a target of some intimidation. Despite these threats and Nina’s eventual frustration and desire to have March stop, he does not give up and continues his pursuit to find Danes.

I did not read the first book in this series and although I was able to generally follow the back story, I did feel as though I was missing some references, especially the relationship of March and his girlfriend Jane Lu or his family. Of course, that could just be Spiegelman’s style and the first book may not have the information that I thought I was missing.

Spiegelman’s first book, Black Maps, won the Shamus Award in 2004 for best first novel. Out of curiosity, I looked to see other books that had won this award to get a sense of how good a predictor this award was for future success. The first winner was Jack Early for a Creative Kind of Killer (1985). I needed to do a little research to remind myself that this was Sandra Scoppettone’s pseudonym and the book was eventually reissued in her name. I haven’t read her books, but she certainly has had some success. The more noteworthy winners include Katwalk (1990) by Karen Kijewski, Devil in a Blue Dress (1991) by Walter Mosley, A Drink Before the War (1995) by Dennis Lehane (my favorite of the winners), Big Red Tequila (1998) by Rick Riordan, A Cold Day in Paradise (1999) by Steve Hamilton, and Every Dead Thing (2000) by John Connelly. Not bad company.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Death's Little Helpers at Random House

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About the Author:

author photoPeter Speigelman is a veteran of more than twenty years in the financial services and software industries, and has worked with leading financial institutions in major markets around the globe. Mr. Spiegelman is the author of Black Maps, which won the 2004 Shamus Award for Best First Novel. He lives in Connecticut. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014