"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes."- Sherlock Holmes.
William DeAndrea was a mystery writer endowed with a mental prowess that reflected the physical aptitude of a professional athlete, coupled with an uncanny knack for hoodwinking and bamboozling, which routinely lead him to emerge triumphant from an exercise of wits and ingenuity against a quick-witted reader – especially when he's facing me on the other side of the playing board. On more than one occasion, I was demoted from a bright young armchair detective to a narrow-minded, starving stray cat that veraciously scoured a trail of carefully laid out red herrings. But no more! I finally beat this modern day grandmaster in a fair, one-on-one, battle of wits.
Don't assume that Killed with a Passion (1983) was a moment of weakness or disorientation, of which I took advantage to deliver a valid thrust with an epee to score an undeserved victory against an otherwise unbeatable opponent, which was not the case, but another example of an efficacious fusion of a fairly-clued, neo-orthodox detective story with the seamier elements of a contemporary thriller.
When we tune in, Matt Cobb, the often troubled Vice President in charge of Special Projects for The Network, a major television broadcaster, whose job description consists of smoothing out the problems that are too insecure for security and too private for Public Relations, has left his office to do some fieldwork – which includes taking a closer look at the booming, but corruption prone, cable TV industry. This also provides our troubleshooter with an opportunity to drop in on some of his college chums and that's when the course of the story takes a dramatic, 360-degree turn.
You'd expect that after a set-up like that, in which exorbitant, underhanded fees are paid for broadcasting licenses, to be hurled head first into an exciting and perilous corporate mystery, steeped in television history and lore, but morphed instead into a very personal and character-driven detective story – in which the impending marriage of one of Cobb's friends provokes a murderer into raising his objection before the ceremony with a crushing blow. The corruption story is downgraded to a sub-plot and our troubleshooter dedicates his natural ability to attract problems, razor-sharp wit and a take-no-guff attitude to pry an old friend from the grubby clutches of a political hungry District Attorney.
Dan Morris was Cobb's roommate in college and during that period he cultivated an infatuation with Debbie Whitten, a spoiled girl with a doting father, who teased and played games with his aching, mournfully howling heart. Morris is an expert martial artist with black belts in both karate and judo knotted around his waist, but it's his unrequited love who has hold him in an iron stranglehold for years. He even refused to roam two potentially interesting career paths to bury himself in a small town, just to be near to her, but when it's announced that Debbie has become the betrothed of a human Ken-doll he finally has had enough – and vows to put a stop to this marriage no matter what.
The local authorities are inclined to believe him and find themselves convinced that he wrestled himself out of her headlock, but only after delivering a lethal blow to the throat that crushed her larynx and ruptured the carotid artery.
The murder of Debbie Whitten provides the reader with nearly everything you expect from a skillfully constructed mystery, from cleverly planted clues to engaging characters, but the plot also neatly shows how emotions can distort an uncomplicated situation and create a ton of complex problems for everyone involved – and I feel like bragging here for having skewered through these problems with relative ease.
There are also a few tight spots for Matt Cobb in this novel, which sprang from the corruption case lingering in the background, when someone sets the Organic Hit Man on him – an expert murderer who kills on the spur of the moment with whatever is handy at the time. A local policeman tells Cobb the story how he clobbered a man to death outside a library with a portfolio of bird paintings his victim had just checked out!
I once noted that William DeAndrea proved that, contrary to popular believe, that tradition and innovation are not entirely incompatible within the convinces of the genre – and even showed that these constituent elements can be just as good, or even better, when they are paired together as when they stand on their own. Killed with a Passion is a fine example of this marriage between tradition and innovation, although, honesty compels me to say that the book doesn't quite reach the same altitudes as The HOG Murders (1979) or Killed on the Rocks (1990), but hey, labeling a detective story as merely excellent instead of absolutely brilliant hardly constitutes as negative criticism, right?
There's just one, very minor, point I want to raise in disfavor of this otherwise excellent story and that is that DeAndrea neglected to explain something that, at first, seems inconsequential but actually contributed to mucking up this case. It's very subtle and easily missed, but if you're observant enough you'll know what I'm referring to. Try and spot if you decide to give this book a shot.
Anyway, in spite of that particle anomaly, I heartily recommend this story – especially to readers who are already devoted fans of this series.