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Death's Little Helpers

Death's Little Helpers

4.0 5
by Peter Spiegelman

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In this masterful follow-up to Peter Spiegelman’s stunning debut Black Maps, private investigator John March finds himself drawn into a web of corruption that extends from the halls of high finance to the dark underworld of organized crime.

Gregory Danes, a Wall Street analyst has gone missing, and his ex-wife, a fashionable painter, calls March


In this masterful follow-up to Peter Spiegelman’s stunning debut Black Maps, private investigator John March finds himself drawn into a web of corruption that extends from the halls of high finance to the dark underworld of organized crime.

Gregory Danes, a Wall Street analyst has gone missing, and his ex-wife, a fashionable painter, calls March to track him down. She just wants him to sign her  alimony checks, but as March soon discovers, she’s not the only one looking for him. Danes was once an industry hot shot, but has  lost his touch. His biggest gains lately, it seems, had been in enemies–including a few members of the Russian mob. When March receives a threat upon his own family, he realizes Danes had been involved in something far more dangerous than insider trading.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Mordant, action-packed [and] knowledge-filled. . . . Breaks new ground in detective fiction. . . . A bang-up novel." —The Washington Post

"[An] elegantly written thriller. . . . A stylish take on the perennial private-eye tale." —The Wall Street Journal

"[Black Maps] was a tough act to follow, and Spiegelman has done it with stunning skill. [He] has the heart, head and writing skills to make his setting explode with rare light and excitement." —Chicago Tribune

"A fine story told well [that ends] with a satisfying bang. March is a man to watch." —Daily News

The Barnes & Noble Review
Peter Spiegelman -- whose breakthrough debut novel, Black Maps, featuring emotionally damaged detective John Marsh, won the 2004 Shamus Award for Best First Novel -- is back with another mystery/thriller starring the grief- and guilt-stricken private investigator.

In Death's Little Helpers, March -- still recovering from the tragic murder of his wife and the unraveling of his career as a New York cop four years earlier -- is beginning to finally put the past behind him. His tenuous relationship with neighbor Jane Lu (a beautiful and brilliant "über-consultant") is beginning to look promising, as is his private investigating career. His newest job is for Nina Sachs, an ill-tempered artist looking for her ex-husband, Gregory Danes, a prominent Wall Street analyst whose reputation was recently trashed after a series of highly publicized blunders. In search of overdue child support, March sets out to find the wayward wunderkind, only to find friends, family members, and co-workers who couldn't care less if Danes is dead or alive...

Speigelman's John March saga is so much more than a contemporary detective serial -- the novels have carefully considered, cunningly complex plotlines featuring realistic, urbane characters with authentic flaws, problems, and aspirations. Laden throughout with dark, atmospheric symbolism, even the novel's titles are multi-layered, both named after poems ("Black Maps" by Mark Strand and "Death's Little Helper" by Charles Simic). An enticing blend of hard-boiled private eye novel and contemporary financial suspense story, Death's Little Helpers is an intellectual thriller of the highest order that should be absolutely savored, page by delectable page. Paul Goat Allen
Publishers Weekly
Shamus-winner Spiegelman's intricate, intelligent second thriller to feature all-too-human New York PI John March (after 2003's Black Maps) explores skulduggery in the world of high finance. Nina Sachs, a high-strung Brooklyn artist, hires March to find her missing ex-husband, Gregory Danes, an arrogant stock analyst who became a media star during the last bull market. Sachs hates Danes, but he's the father of their teenage son and her primary money supply (alimony, child support). March uncovers a huge list of potential enemies: investors burned by Danes, a vindictive ex-mistress, a scary Russian mobster and a reclusive hedge fund manager. That someone else is also looking for Danes-someone with the resources to surveil March, his girlfriend and his extended family-adds to the suspense. Spiegelman makes all the details ring true, and his fine prose can be lyrical (a spring rain gives Manhattan "a scrubbed, surprised look, like a drunk, waking up sober and in his own bed for the first time in a long time"). While the determined March has the requisite grit, he is also appealingly vulnerable and introspective. If it's hard to care too much about the victim, Spiegelman makes the search extremely compelling. Agent, Denise Marcil. (July 22) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Black Maps P.I. John March is after a ruined Wall Street analyst who has literally fallen off the map. With a five-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Private eye John March follows the money again in a worthy sequel to his impressive debut (Shamus-winner Black Maps, 2003). Unlike the Hammett-Chandler-Ross-McDonald prototype, March is rich, bulwarked by a trust fund from the family banking business. Still, he is (in Chandler's famous phrase) "neither tarnished nor afraid," though prone to those heavy bouts of Weltschmerz endemic to fictional p.i.s. March's mean street is Wall Street, and he walks it like a beat cop, which explains why Nina Sachs dials his number when her financial analyst ex-husband, Gregory Danes, goes missing. Danes, clever, telegenic, once the poster boy for business glitz and glam, has fallen on hard times. His firm is unhappy with him, and, rumor has it, so is the SEC: "insider trading" is the unnerving term being bruited about. Few, however, are as anxious as Nina, since, for her, bread and butter is the issue: she needs him around to keep signing alimony checks. March goes to work, soon discovering he's not the only gumshoe tracking Danes. But gumshoes come in a variety of flavors, and these, March learns when certain photographs make it clear that people close to him are under threat, are the noxious, bottom-feeding kind. So he's being warned off, but why? Has Danes got himself into something so potentially explosive that big-time movers and shakers are running scared? Is Danes only missing, or has the ante been upped lethally? Well, ex-cop March can play rough, too-fast as the next man with the fist to the gut, or the shoe to the groin. But it's the good March brain that finally cracks the case, and the vulnerable March heart that makes the solution bittersweet. Spiegelman's dialogue does at times descend totalkiness, slowing the pace accordingly, but his is a serious talent that rewards interest now with better around the corner. First printing of 50,000; author tour

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
John March Series , #2
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

"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."

Nina Sachs was a few inches over five feet tall, and wiry. Her short straight hair was pulled into a blunt ponytail, away from a pale elfin face that was full of motion. Grins and frowns and ironic twists flickered by, and I saw a lot of her teeth, which were uneven but not unattractive. Her hands were quick and so were her hazel eyes. Nina Sachs was close to forty, but despite the chain-smoking she looked ten years younger.

"What makes you think something's happened to him?" I asked.

She crossed her legs and uncrossed them and regarded her small bare feet and her toenails, which were painted apple green. She crossed her legs once more and finally tucked them beneath her. She fiddled with one of her silver earrings and picked with a thumbnail at a fleck of paint on her black yoga pants. She took another hit off the Benson & Hedges.

"I've got a picture of him somewhere," she said, and uncurled herself from the green leather sofa. She crossed the loft with quick steps, opened the center drawer of an ebony desk, and began rummaging.

I didn't need a photograph to recognize her ex-husband. Though he hadn't been on television much lately, anyone who watched the cable business channels over the past few years had seen plenty of Gregory Danes. Still, I let her go on searching. I was happy for the distance. Between the smoking and the fidgeting, she was making me edgy.

"What makes you think something's happened?" I asked again. She pulled the desk drawer out and dumped its contents on the desktop. She sifted through the pile, her back to me as she spoke.

"Five weeks ago--right before he was supposed to pick up Billy for the weekend--he called to say he couldn't make it. He was all pissy about something and said he was taking time off--going away someplace--and had to postpone." A box of paper clips slid off the heap and scattered on the floor. Nina cursed and kept searching.

"He's canceled last-minute plenty of times, so I wasn't shocked. I said Fine, whatever, and we rescheduled for three weeks later. So three weeks comes, and we're here waiting for him to get Billy, and he's a no-show. No call, no message--no word at all. I tried his place, but there was no answer. I left messages on his machine and got nothing back." She turned to look at me and took another long drag on her cigarette. "That was nearly two weeks ago. Since then, I've tried his cell phone, his office, left more messages . . . and heard nothing." She ran her fingers across the base of her throat. "Maybe he just doesn't want to come back, or maybe . . . I don't know what. That's why I'm talking to you."

"What did they say at his office?" I asked.

Nina snorted. "At Pace-Loyette? They didn't say shit. All they gave me was a runaround and a weird vibe." Some envelopes and matchbooks joined the paper clips on the floor. She stared at them.

"Weird how?"

Nina turned back to the desk and started picking through the heap again. "My lawyer told me you were a cop before this PI thing," she said.

"I was a sheriff's deputy--an investigator--upstate. What kind of weird vibe did you get from Pace-Loyette?"

Nina Sachs laughed. "Deputy John March, huh? Get out of Dodge by sundown and all that?"

"Just like that. Weird how, Nina?"

"It was . . . I don't know . . . weird. I called his direct number--figuring I'd get his voice mail or his secretary--and instead I get bounced to some woman named Mayhew, in Corporate Communications, she says, who tells me Mr. Danes is away and I can leave a message with her. When she found out who I was, she got all freaked and transferred me to some legal guy. He started asking questions and finally it dawned on me: They don't know where Greg is either." Her cigarette was down nearly to the filter. She squinted at it and stubbed it out in a small metal bowl on the desk.

"He didn't say anything to you about where he was going?"

Nina shook her head and fished her cigarettes and lighter from a pants pocket. "He doesn't tell me shit like that."

"He ever do anything like this before--just take off?"

Nina shrugged. "I guess so."

I waited for more but it didn't come. "Care to elaborate?"

"There were a couple of times. Once, right after we were separated, he split for maybe ten days. And after the divorce was final he did it again, for two weeks. And I guess there was a third time a few years back--not long after the SEC people first called him in--he took off for a week or so."

"And each of those times he just up and left--with no notice and no word to anyone?"

"He didn't say jackshit to me, I know that, and he didn't call either. He just went away for a while, and then he came back."

"So what's different about this?"

She shrugged once more. "Maybe nothing, but . . . he's never been away this long before. And before, he called to cancel with the kid--he's never just been a no-show." Nina turned to the desk again and started pushing the mess around. "How'd you get from upstate to down here?" she asked.

I sighed. I'd been through all this two days ago, when her lawyer, Maggie Lind, had phoned me to set up this meet. But what the hell.

"I'm from down here. I came back when I was done with being a cop."

"How come you're not a cop anymore?" she asked. "You get into trouble?"

"I quit."

"I knew it was around here," she said. She padded across the floor, trailing smoke, and handed me a photograph. She perched again at the end of the sofa.

It was a Polaroid, ridged and faded, and it showed Nina and Danes side by side at a glass-topped table, under a big striped umbrella. There were palm trees and leafy plantings and part of a swimming pool in the background. Danes was dressed in canvas pants and a guayabera, and Nina wore a gauzy caftan over a wet tank suit. Her hair was longer and her face was fuller and less interesting--more conventionally and forgettably pretty.

Danes looked much as he did on television, the same wayward straw-colored hair, the same regular, somehow unfinished features, the same shadowed eyes and thin lips and vaguely mocking smile: the same overall impression of precocity and arrogance. His hand was on Nina's shoulder and she didn't seem to mind, and I figured the photo was at least ten years old--taken before the divorce, before Danes had become the head of equity research at Pace-Loyette and ubiquitous on the business channels, before his long slide down. I looked at Nina.

"How about his friends or family?" I asked. "Have you been in touch with them?"

"I wouldn't know who to try," she said. "He didn't have a lot of friends back when we were married, and I bet he has less now. And I sure as hell don't know any of them.

"And as far as family goes, Billy and me are pretty much it. Greg's old man died when he was five. His mother remarried, but she and the stepfather died just after Greg got out of B school. He's got a creepy half brother somewhere in Jersey, but I don't know when Greg last spoke to him." She smiled and blew out some smoke. "Pathetic, isn't it?"

"You said he sounded pissy the last time you spoke. Any idea what about?"

She shook her head again. "We don't exactly confide in each other, you know? We don't have that kind of relationship."

"What kind of relationship do you have?" I asked.

Nina got no farther than a smirk when a cell phone chirped. She cursed and tracked the sound to the kitchen, beneath some sections of the Times that were spread on the counter. She bent her head and spoke in low tones. I got up and stretched.

Windows covered one wall of the loft, from floor to ceiling. The metal-framed glass was thick and clouded, and some of the panes opened on a pivot. I pushed on one, and a small breeze came in. Sachs's place was in Brooklyn, on the third floor of an old factory building off Water Street, tucked between the Brooklyn and the Manhattan bridges and near enough to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that I could hear the rush and rumble of traffic. The outside air was warm, tinged with exhaust and soot and the sour, salty smell of the harbor and the East River. Even so, it was better than the heavy cloud of cigarette smoke and paint and old food that hung inside. I took a deep breath and looked down at the cobbled streets. They were quiet on a Monday morning. The loading docks across the way were empty.

Once upon a time, I'd roamed this neighborhood on a regular basis. It was twenty years ago, and I was in the eighth grade and hanging with a kid named Jimmy Farrelly. Jimmy lived in Brooklyn Heights, in a brownstone near the Promenade, and we'd ride the subway from Manhattan after school and walk to the river from the Clark Street stop. If the neighborhood had a name back then we didn't know it, and if any artists lived there we didn't care. We were drawn by the derelict factories and abandoned warehouses, by the rotting piers and the lattice of stone and ironwork overhead, and by a consuming interest in smoking dope, drinking beer, and learning, from Jimmy's neighbor Rita and her friend Angela, the finer points of French-kissing.

A lot of artists had moved to the area since those days, looking to homestead after being priced out of places like SoHo and TriBeCa and the East Village. The developers had followed them, and then came the realtors--who bestowed a name on our old playground: dumbo, for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. With the name had come immaculate art galleries, like the one downstairs, sleek coffee bars, like the one across the street, and designer grocery stores, like the one around the corner. The march of progress.

If she hadn't been an early homesteader, then Nina had paid a fortune for her place. She had an entire floor--an easy 4,000 square feet--with good light and a swatch of downtown Manhattan skyline in sight, if you craned your neck. The walls were unadorned brick, faded to a warm rose color, and the floors were cement, finished and sealed so that they were smooth and wet-looking. The high ceilings were hung with new ductwork.

The loft was divided into four distinct areas. At one end, behind white Sheetrock walls, were bedrooms and a bath. Next to these was an open kitchen, with pale wood cabinets, steel counters, and an armor-clad oven. Tatami mats defined the living area, which was dominated by a sleek L-shaped leather sofa, some matching chairs, a green glass coffee table, and tall freestanding shelves. The other end of the loft, walled off by unpainted Sheetrock and a white fabric scrim, was Nina's studio.

The space was impressive and also a mess. Besides the small havoc Nina had created around the desk, there was a collapsed stack of dog-eared art journals near the sofa and another on one of the chairs. There was an empty bottle of merlot on the coffee table, with two sticky-looking glasses beside it. Two more bottles were on the kitchen counter, along with the remains of several meals. The sink was full of dirty dishes, and everywhere the ashtrays were brimming. A mess--but a grown-up one.

I walked slowly around the living room, and nowhere did I see traces of Billy. There were no schoolbooks or comic books, no video games or backpacks, no sneakers or skateboards. And while there was clothing strewn about, on the backs of chairs, on countertops, and crumpled at the base of an overloaded coatrack, none of it seemed to belong to a twelve-year-old boy.

Nina was still muttering into the phone, and I drew back the white curtain and stepped into her studio. It was a larger space than the living room, and more sparsely equipped. A big drafting table and two elaborate easels stood in the center of the room. Three metal trolleys were parked nearby, laden with brushes, tubes of paint, solvents, palettes, and other tools of her trade. There was a steel utility sink along the opposite wall, and to one side of it some metal shelves and more supplies. A gilt-framed mirror--eight feet high at least--leaned against the wall on the other side. A commercial fan and two reflecting lights stood in one corner, near a scruffy armchair and a pint-sized stereo.

By comparison with the rest of the place, Nina's studio was immaculate. The supplies on the shelves and trolleys were organized and tidy. The floor was bare and clean. The sink was empty but for a half-dozen brushes drying in a precise row at its edge.

Some pencil sketches were taped to the Sheetrock on my right: two of a female nude draped in an armchair, a third of the same figure kneeling, with head inclined, and two more of something that looked like the Flatiron Building, set on a bluff over a churning sea. They were nicely done, with a sure delicate touch. There was a canvas on one of the easels, and I walked around to take a look.

I'd done a little online homework before my meeting with Nina and knew she had enjoyed some success as an artist. She'd had exhibitions in New York and Boston and London that were--insofar as I could decrypt the reviews--well received. Her work had been acquired by some notable private and corporate collections, and recently she'd been picked up by museums in Chicago and Dallas and LA. But I'd not actually seen any of her paintings, and I didn't know what to expect.

It was striking. The canvas was about three feet high by two feet wide, and the painting was in oil, with blues and grays predominant. I recognized the subjects from the sketches on the wall. The triangular building was at the right of the picture, set back, and the angry sea swirled in the foreground and to the left. The bowed kneeling figure appeared in a window, halfway up the side of the building.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Peter Spiegelman is the author of Black Maps. He worked on Wall Street for twenty years developing software systems for international banking institutions and retired in 2001 to devote himself to writing. He lives in Connecticut.

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Death's Little Helpers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WinnirJR More than 1 year ago
Good mystery. Well written with surprising twists. A must read...
edofarrell More than 1 year ago
Steven King famously re-released "The Stand" with the 700-odd pages that had been edited out from the original version. He said it gave more 'texture' to the novel. What it did was gratuitously pad the novel with asides, sub-plots and random descriptions. It added nothing to character or story development. Spiegelman writes like that, a man desperately in need of an editor. His style is verbose, his characters are described to the nth degree, but never developed beyond two-dimensional caricatures. The same can be said for the poor attempts he makes at mood. Rain and night fall, but there is nothing beyond the bare description -- however verbose -- to set a mood. The plot is so-so, no real twists. Very predictable. The PI is suddenly set upon by thugs, a device he uses several times. The client fires him but he just can't give up on the mystery. Yadayadayada. There is a story and a writer buried somewhere in this mess. Let's hope the next book finds one or the other.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Affluent private eye John March does not need to work as his has a trust fund from the family banking business to pay his bills. Still, he enjoys sleuthing the mean streets and back allies of Wall Street solving financial related cases for his clients. --- Worried that her alimony gravy may have ended, Nina Sachs hires John to find out what happened to her missing ex-husband, Gregory Danes, former financial guru who has recently fallen from grace on the Street. John quickly learns that Gregory¿s firm Pace-Loyette reprimanded him for unethical behavior and rumors abound that the SEC is coming for him. However, the simple missing person¿s case turns bizarre when John realizes competing sleuths are searching for Gregory. These soulless detectives work for some deadly folks high up in the Russian Mafia. If John can stay alive long enough to march from one clue to the next, he might find the missing former spouse, but not necessarily breathing. --- Though John at times pontificates even when he takes a punch or bullets whiz by, fans will enjoy this hard boiled detective with a susceptible to love heart and seek his previous appearance (see award winning BLACK MAPS). The story line is action-packed as the simple inquiries turn ugly with adversaries willing to act as DEATH¿S LITTLE HELPER. John is terrific and the end of the rainbow will stun the audience as much as it ravages the hero. Readers will enjoy Peter Spiegelman¿s unique look at the center of the capitalist system from a lethal perspective.--- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Peter Spiegelman's second novel written with style again has financial wrong-doings as the principal theme. PI John March has to try to find a missing 'star analyst' who had been party to praising to the stars dot-com IPO's which had nothing real to offer - sound familiar ? Dot-com bubble bursts - destroy all evidence and 'bye, I'm out of here'. Great writing and without doubt Mr Spiegelman knows his stuff. In Europe the book is called 'No Way Home' - curious ?