To Kill a Conman by Kevin Berry – 2021

Stuart Baker might not want to work for money, but he certainly puts his all into running his multiple cons. They range from extortion to giving less to beggars than he takes from them, and they cover every type of scam in between. His biggest worry is remembering to park his Lamborghini where his impoverished ex-wife can’t see it, that is until he hacks PI Danny Ashford’s credit card. That is probably the moment things turn south for Stuart Baker.

Danny runs Quake City Investigations out of his flat in the still shaky alternate history Christchurch. It’s not just the streets and buildings that are crumbling – the cops are hopeless, and the banks are as dishonest as the many criminals who consider Quake City their patch. Danny can’t afford his rent, or the payment for the new car he needs after his last one was trashed. He acquires an Audi from a dealer, knowing better than to grill him about the car’s provenance.

When lawyer Julie arrives at the agency, wanting Danny to recover the money a fraudster has conned from her, he gladly takes the case. And the coincidences start piling up. Danny discovers he and Julie have been ripped off by the same guy. The Audi used to belong to a thief who Stuart engaged to steal some valuable software. And when Danny acts on behalf of his new neighbour, Chelsea, an exotic dancer at 88 Club, warning her boss to stop harassing her, more connections fall into place.

All is going well with the investigation until Danny ends up at the police station being interviewed – there has been a murder and Danny is the prime suspect. Fortunately for Danny, Julie turns out to be a criminal lawyer and she stops Danny being arrested, if only so he can keep working on getting her money back. Deepa Banwait, a journalist, and crime-busting partner of Danny’s is happy to help, for a story. And Chelsea is generous in letting Danny and his cat Torquemada hang out at her place to avoid the police – and the increasingly rent-needy landlady.

Pressure is mounting – Danny needs to solve not only the confidence crimes but also a murder, and he must do so in time to pay the rent, pay off the car, and avoid getting sent to prison. And both Julie and Chelsea are starting to act very oddly. Then there is another murder, and once again the clues point to Danny. Danny has no trust in the police, he knows he must prove himself innocent. And he must resolve the cons so all the victims get what they deserve, as the Financial Crimes Unit will skim some of the money, and the victims will end up with nothing.

Despite the police only having Danny in their sights for the murders, there is a growing number of other suspects. There’s the bank teller who has worked out where Stuart’s money comes from, his struggling ex-wife who has twin boys to support, a woman whose strip club started failing when 88 Club opened down the street, and the owner of the ripped off software company, who just happens to be a star kickboxer who has the wherewithal to trace extorting phone calls.

To Kill a Conman continues the Quake City Investigations series. Readers who enjoy the cartoonish settings won’t be disappointed, we still have the Richter Mail, Crumblo Street, Ricketyton, etc. Apart from the police interview transcripts, the narrative is first person Danny, and there are other noir tropes: the attractive woman arriving at the down and out PI’s offices needing help, the constant rain, the PI being played … There are enough clues for the reader to work out whodunnit – you will be guessing to the end – and there is the added interest in how Danny will sort out his financial woes, and those of the other victims of Stuart Baker.

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