Dead Line

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Brian McGrory’s third Flynn mystery, reporter Jack Flynn is tipped off by the FBI about the involvement of a notorious fugitive in the real-life unsolved 1991 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in which eleven masterpieces by such painters as Rembrandt and Vermeer were stolen. Toby Harkins is not just an ordinary murdering drug kingpin but the son of Daniel Harkins, Boston’s mayor who may be appointed to replace a dying U.S. Senator.

The case becomes even more complicated when government lawyer Hilary Kane is murdered shortly after Flynn writes about Toby’s suspected part in the robbery. After Maggie Kane accuses Flynn of causing her sister’s death, Flynn learns that Hilary had seen evidence of Toby’s complicity in the mayor’s apartment. Flynn must find Hilary’s killer and the complete truth about the Harkins conspiracy while keeping Maggie alive.

McGrory’s unlikely story is skillfully told, presenting a detailed view of the city and of the workings of the newspaper world. McGrory, a political reporter-turned-columnist for the Boston Globe, is especially adept with his supporting characters, including editor Peter Martin, retired cop Hank Sweeney, and the self-hating, obese Vinny Mongillo, another journalist. Incapable of beauty himself, Mongillo is a self-taught art expert who goes into raptures when two of the missing masterpieces are turned over to Flynn.

McGrory, however, spends too much time trying to make his hero well rounded. The reporter suffers because of the deaths five years earlier of his wife and daughter and is rejected by his girlfriend because of his inability to rebound from this tragedy. Flynn’s strained attempts at adolescent humor become grating. These weaknesses detract only slightly from the success of the mystery and the milieu.