This “outstanding” novel featuring a Boston detective searching for a judge’s missing son is a Shamus Award finalist and the first in a series (The New York Times).John Cuddy’s heart is buried in a cemetery overlooking Boston harbor. His wife, Beth, fought her cancer for nearly a year, and when she died Cuddy gave up his morning runs in favor of nightly benders. Two months after her death, he is forced out of his job as an insurance investigator for refusing to sign his name to a phony claim. Now he is filing for unemployment, cutting back on his drinking, and attempting to become a private eye. His first real case comes in the form of Valerie Jacobs, a junior high teacher who was friends with Beth. Her star pupil, the son of a Massachusetts judge, has vanished, and the local police have no leads. To make his name as a detective, Cuddy searches for a boy who’s too smart to be found, and whose father would prefer his son never return.
About the Author
Jeremiah Healy (1948–2014) was the creator of the John Cuddy mystery series and the author of several legal thrillers. A graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School, Healy taught at the New England School of Law before becoming a novelist. He published his first novel, Blunt Darts, in 1984, introducing John Francis Cuddy, the Boston private eye who would become Healy’s best-known character.
Read an Excerpt
By Jeremiah Healy
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Jeremiah F. Healy III
All rights reserved.
"CUDDY, JOHN FRANCIS."
"74 Charles Street."
"Social Security number?"
"Date of birth?"
I told her.
The civil servant looked up at me, squeezed out a smile. "You look younger."
"It's a mark of my immaturity," I said.
She made a sour face and returned to the form. "Occupation?"
"Empire Insurance Company." I wondered whether Empire had to fill out a form that referred to me as "Previous Employee."
"Reason for leaving previous employment?"
"I have a letter." I took the tri-fold sheet from my inside coat pocket and handed it to her. Opening and reading it slowed her down. I looked around the big, clattering room at the thirty or so other metal desks. Each had a woman filling out a form and an applicant answering the same questions. Most of the applicants were male. I wondered why we applicants couldn't fill out at least the first few lines by ourselves.
The man seated at the desk next to me sneezed. Brittlely old and black, he looked as though he should have been applying for Social Security instead of unemployment. He wiped his nose with a clean handkerchief that had a hole in one corner. When the guy was finished, he folded it so that the hole didn't show.
"Mr. Cuddy, if you'll pay attention to me, we'll finish this process much more quickly."
I turned my head to face her again. "That's all right," I said. "I've got time."
She fixed me with another sour look and tapped her index finger on the paper before her. "This letter from your previous employer is beautifully drafted, Mr. Cuddy, probably by a company lawyer. It nicely provides every fact the regulations require. Accordingly, I have no choice but to recommend you for benefits. I must say, however, that seeing a man of your obvious abilities here instead of out in the world earning his way makes me sick."
"I didn't think you were looking too well. Would you like me to complete the rest of the form myself?"
"No!" she snapped. I thought I heard the guy next to me stifle a chuckle. The woman and I operated as a much more efficient team after that.
"High School, then Holy Cross. One year of night law school."
"Military Police, discharged a captain in nineteen-sixty-eight."
"Employer prior to Empire Insurance Company?"
"Just the army."
She looked up at me again. "Do you mean you worked for Empire since nineteen-sixty-eight?"
"Nineteen-sixty-nine. I traveled around the country for a while after the service."
The woman shook her head, and we completed the rest of the form. I signed it and got a brochure explaining my benefits and rights. I also received a little chit that entitled me to join a slow-moving line ten or twelve people deep in front of a window like a bank teller's.
I had to hand it to Empire. They really knew how to deal with someone like me. After nearly eight years onboard, I became head of claims investigation in Boston. It meant my own office, with a window. Beth and I were just this side of ecstasy. We'd married during my first year with Empire and had always lived in apartments in the Back Bay, a quiet part of the city within walking distance of the office. Given the promotion, we decided we could finally plunge for a three-bedroom condominium there. We moved in during the hottest week in July.
Four months later, the doctor told us what Beth had growing inside her skull.
The insurance covered eighty percent of the medical expenses, and a second mortgage on the condo covered most of the rest for the first nine months. I would have sold the place, but it was in both our names, and Beth refused to give it up until the beginning of the last month, when she finally admitted to herself (but never once to me) that she wouldn't be coming home. I sandwiched selling the place between trips to my office and the hospital. I turned most of our furniture over to an auctioneer and moved the rest into a small one-bedroom apartment on Charles Street at the foot of Beacon Hill.
Three weeks later, Joe Mirelli, the priest who'd grown up with us in South Boston and married us there, helped me ease Beth into a small piece of ground on a gentle slope overlooking the harbor.
Two months to the day after Beth's funeral, the head of Boston claims walked into my office. I had the window open a crack, and I could hear Christmas carols carrying from some store's outside stereo speakers. Phil handed me an investigation report and told me to sign it.
The report substantiated a five-figure jewel-theft claim from an affluent bedroom community just west of Boston. I looked up at him. "This may win an award for best short fiction, but I'm not going to sign it."
"John, please—just sign it."
"Phil, nobody from this office ever investigated this claim."
"John, I've been told to tell you to sign it."
"Phil, you've also just been told that I'm not going to."
He took the report back and left my office.
The next day the head of claims investigation and the head of the claims division, both from Empire's home base in New York, were outside my office with Phil when I arrived. It was a cold December morning, but at 8:15, Phil already had patches of sweat in the armpits of his buttoned-down shirt as we all settled into chairs.
"Sign the report," said Head of Claims.
"The investigation was never done," I replied.
"It was done by an independent outfit without your knowledge," said Head of Investigation.
"Fine. Let me talk to him, her, or it."
"That's not feasible," said Head of Claims.
"Then let him, her, or it sign the report."
Phil picked up the paper and shook it at me. "Christ, John, will you please just sign the goddamned thing?" He was squealing.
"Well," said Head of Claims as he plucked the report from Phil's hand and tamped it into his inside pocket, "that's certainly clear enough." Head of Claims walked out followed by Phil, who said, "'Bye, John."
"'Bye, John," mimicked Head of Investigation as he followed behind them and closed my door.
Fifteen minutes later I called Tommy Kramer. He was a college classmate of mine and the best lawyer I knew who had no connection with Empire. I explained what had happened. He said to wait and see what developed. I didn't have long to wait.
Two days later, Empire's Head of Boston called me into his office. All the windows were closed, but I imagine we were too high up to hear Christmas carols anyway.
He was in his early sixties and Ivy League. He also came from a Pilgrim-tracing North Shore family, though by the time his generation arrived, the bloodline had run a bit thin. After a few minutes of uncomfortable small talk, he allowed as how my senior investigator, Mullen, was due for a promotion. He also allowed as how I'd gone about as far as I could with Empire and should consider seeking "lateral-level" employment elsewhere, toward which I'd receive only the highest references. He had never heard of any five-figure claim or investigation report. When he added, jokingly, that I could, of course, be terminated in such a way as to qualify for unemployment compensation, I took him up on it. He was shocked and tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted. He reluctantly agreed to get the in-house attorney started on the necessary paperwork.
When I got back to my own office, I called Tommy Kramer again. I told him what I'd just done, and he advised me that if I stuck to my present course, I could kiss goodbye any lawsuit against the company for wrongful termination.
I said that was fine with me, and asked him to send me a bill. Which, knowing about Beth, he never did.
Aside from Tommy's kindness, I had a lousy Christmas.
I came to be only four people away from the cashier at the unemployment office. The lady in front of me shuffled forward. She was dragging a shopping bag along the floor. I glanced into her bag. It looked like a condensed version of somebody's attic.
There was a while there after leaving Empire when I thought I might be in trouble. While Beth was sick, I'd started running in the early mornings to work off some of my anxiety. When she died, I stopped jogging and started drinking. After I left the company, I really began hitting it, leaving unopened most of the packed boxes in the new apartment. Then one January night, driving home from a bar, I missed a kid on a bike by about half a Scotch.
When I got ... "home," I threw up twelve or fifteen times and tried to drown myself in the shower. I climbed out, looked at myself in the mirror and began taking stock. Thirty-plus, six-feet-two-plus. Unemployed and rapidly approaching unemployable. I'd spent most—hell, all—of my adult life in investigation work for Uncle Sugar or Empire. Six years earlier the company had required all of us to obtain and maintain private-investigator licenses from the Department of Public Safety. I knew three or four semi-reputable guys in the trade who could tell me how to get started and maybe even refer me a few clients. I decided it was time J. F. C. became his own man.
With a little interim help from the unemployment-compensation folks.
The shopping-bag lady waddled past me. I reached the cashier's window and collected my benefit. After expressing my gratitude, I went home.CHAPTER 2
The bouncy voice on the other side of the fire alarm said, "Hi, John. This is Valerie Jacobs." The clock radio read eight-thirty; the sun through my bedroom window suggested A.M. Unfortunately, I'd decided to cut back on my drinking slowly, and the Red Sox game on TV the night before had gone thirteen innings.
"Hi," I said quietly. "Who are you?"
"Fine, thanks," she replied, I guess because she thought I'd said "how" instead of "who." Maybe I had. "The school year's over, and I'm hoping this will be my best summer of all."
"That's nice," I said.
"Listen, John, I can tell I woke you up, and I'm sorry. I wanted to talk with you about a problem, but when I called Empire, they said you'd left the company. I'm not seeing Chuck anymore, so I didn't know."
Chuck? Chuck ... Craft. Valerie and Chuck, sure. She was a teacher who'd been going out with one of the claims adjusters in our office. Beth and I had met her at a few company functions. In fact, I remembered she'd sent a condolence card just after Beth died.
"I'm a private investigator now. In Boston."
"Oh, John, that's perfect! I know this is short notice, but so much time has gone by already. Could you meet me for lunch today? Around one?"
"How about L'Espalier?"
"Fine. You buyin'?"
"Put it on your expense account," Valerie Jacobs laughed, and hung up before I could tell her she definitely had overestimated my status in the profession.
I got up, vacillated over running, then finally laced my Brooks Villanovas. I pulled on a fading Tall Ships T-shirt from the Bicentennial summer and a pair of black gym shorts. I warmed up with loosening and stretching exercises for ten minutes and then went outside. It was a glorious June day, and the sidewalk was frying-pan hot. In Boston, we don't have "spring." At some point in May, we jump from March to August.
I crossed over Storrow Drive on the pedestrian ramp and did a fairly leisurely two miles upriver and two miles back. As I recrossed the ramp toward Charles Street and the apartment, I watched the commuters inch by below me.
It had been only five months since I'd missed that kid on the bike, but I wasn't really struggling. In terms of conditioning (or reconditioning), I'd been running three days a week, three to six miles each time. I'd been doing pushups, sit-ups, and a little weight lifting. To regain some capacity for danger, I began relearning jukado (a combination of judo, karate, and a number of other disciplines), which I'd picked up in the army. I even persuaded a police-chief friend of mine from Bonham (pronounced "Bon-uhm," if you please), a town south and west of Boston, to let me use his department's firing range.
In terms of business, the advent of no-fault divorce in Massachusetts had cut back considerably on that aspect of private investigating, which was fine by me. A friend in the trade had told me that the secret to survival was keeping the overhead down. He suggested I use a tape device on my telephone instead of an answering service, and he was proving to be right. I also operated out of my apartment, so I had no office expense.
A retired Boston cop who'd known my family was the director of security for a suburban department store. He threw a few "inside-job" surveillances my way, and on one we actually nailed the dipping employee. I had been quietly blackballed in Boston insurance circles, which kept my unemployment compensation coming. However, one maverick investigator brought me in as a consultant on the problem of virgin computers walking out the back door of a warehouse. I sewed it up nicely in enough days to pay my next three months' rent. In other words, although I wasn't exactly pressed for free time, I was getting by.
I stopped at the grocery store on the corner and bought a quart of orange juice, some doughnuts, a Boston Globe, and a New York Times. I politely stayed downwind (actually, down-air-conditioner) from the cashier. After I climbed the three flights to my apartment, I duplicated the pre-run exercises. I showered, shaved, and downed the doughnuts. Dressing in my only gray slacks and blue blazer, I even wore a regimental tie. Peter Prep School primps toward luncheon.
I sat in the Public Garden for two hours, reading my papers thoroughly in a way I'd never seemed able to while I was working. Funny, but with my time mine own and only food, shelter, and car insurance to worry about, I couldn't really look on my present occupation as "working." By the time I finished the Times, it was 12:45, and I'd been panhandled three times. I walked down Arlington Street and toward the restaurant.
L'Espalier was then on the second floor of a building between Arlington and Berkeley streets on Boylston. It has since moved to Gloucester Street between Newbury and Commonwealth. It's also ceased serving lunch, to allow concentration on the magnificent dinner menu. The couple who owns and manages the restaurant had lived above Beth and me in the condominium building. After Beth died, I'd wasted some beautiful late afternoons over a carafe of house Bordeaux while Donna and Moncef patiently looked on.
Donna greeted me at the entranceway and gave me a table for two in the corner. I'd just ordered a piña colada (without the kick) when Valerie Jacobs walked in. I recognized her, but I realized I would have been hard put to describe her beforehand.
Valerie stood about five-seven without the heels. She had long, curly-to-the-point-of-kinky auburn hair, a broad, open face, and a toothy smile. That may sound unkind; I don't mean it to be. In her late twenties, a sundress hinted at small but nicely shaped breasts. The dress also hid most of her legs, which were slightly heavier than I would have recalled but appeared, thankfully, to be shaved. She was burdened with at least four store bags.
From the door, Valerie gave me a wave that was a little too much "I'm-meeting-someone-in-a-nice-Boston-restaurant" and therefore not entirely for my benefit. She smiled at and said something to Donna, then strode over toward my table. I noticed that Donna was giving me a sardonic grin. I also noticed, as Valerie cleared the table before mine, that the bags she carried were from Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, labels out. I stood up.
"John, you've lost weight!"
"And teaching must be fairly profitable," I replied, nodding at her packages.
"Oh," she said with her smile, "this is my annual showboat excursion into the Big City. Usually I just barter my wares for dry goods at the general store."
Valerie giggled, and so did I. Despite first appearances, I remembered her as a pretty regular kid, and I decided she hadn't changed.
Valerie declined a cocktail. We ordered a bottle of white wine and chicken entrée for two, to be followed by a salad course. Valerie said what she had to about Beth, and I did the same. The waiter brought and poured our wine. We talked about classrooms, the declining birth rate, and teacher lay-offs.
"So, how goes the private-eye business?" Valerie asked.
I exaggerated a little. I was relieved that she didn't ask for details.
"I'm sorry," I said finally, "but I don't recall exactly where it is that you're teaching."
Excerpted from Blunt Darts by Jeremiah Healy. Copyright © 1984 Jeremiah F. Healy III. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
Jeremiah Healy's original characters and clever plotting bring a realism to the field.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Read for a mystery book club discussion. Very delightful, well-written, likeable characters, believable plot twists. John Francis Cuddy, private detective, is hired to find a missing 14 yr old boy, Stephen Kinnington. Stephen's grandmother is the person doing the hiring, as the boy's father, Judge Kinnington seems to want the lid put on the boy's disappearance, and everyone in the town is afraid of His Honor.Cuddy's search lands him in some unfortunate scrapes as the judge's talons reach further and further, but he is determined to find the boy. No spoilers, but it's a quick reading, easy to follow, but not banal example of good detective writing. As the first of over a dozen in the series, it has whetted my appetite for more of this gentleman's detecting.
Good first item in a PI series. The mental illness diagnosis at the end is a little fanciful.
PLOT OR PREMISE: John Cuddy is asked by a grandmother to investigate the disappearance of her grandson, a prominent judge's son…even though the judge doesn't seem to want people looking for the boy. Cuddy goes looking anyway, even when a corrupt Sheriff tries to direct him away rather forcefully. . WHAT I LIKED: A huge cast of characters, with a couple of the series regulars just beginning to be fleshed out a little. . WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: A few of the characters were one-dimensional, fifth business to the storyline - only there to pass along a vital clue, and it was usually pretty obvious that the author was trying to slip it by, since Cuddy himself doesn't catch it. . BOTTOM-LINE: A great story . DISCLOSURE: I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I was not personal friends with the author, but I did follow him on social media.