The Tower of Songs

by Casey Barrett
Kensington Books, August 2019, $26

Casey Barrett swings for the fences in this jacked-up third outing for Lawrence “Duck” Darley Jr., unlicensed New York PI.

Scrape away the high drama and there’s a solid story underneath, grounded by some sharp characterization, particularly of Duck himself. A former competitive swimmer, exfelon, and a recovering alcoholic who currently self-medicates by vaping pot and attending AA meetings, he has the kind of beat-up, hinted-at backstory that could make firsttime readers stumble. Fortunately, Barrett knows how to tease, not trip.

The story opens with a bang— a prologue that actually works, featuring a crime in the clouds: the almost Bond-like kidnapping of zillionaire Daniel Soto from his sky-high Manhattan penthouse (“the highest apartment in the world”). But chapter one snaps us back to street level with Duck being tossed around a mat by a “beefy, young cop” at his local aikido dojo on a hot, sticky summer day in the city. “The beating felt good,” he confesses, “just what I needed.”

What he might not have needed was Daniel’s daughter, 17-year-old Layla, showing up. She’s convinced only Duck can rescue her father, thanks to the glowing recommendation of a classmate’s mother. She hands Duck a bag of cash to seal the deal. Nonplussed, Duck insists on meeting her mother.

And then we’re off to the races. Nicole Soto is a pillhead barely keeping it together, but agrees to let Duck proceed. But the Soto’s security chief, when questioned, threatens Duck, and then somebody else slips him an almost-fatal dose, landing him in the hospital (complete with a welcome poke at health care—who does pay for private eye boo-boos?).

No wonder he calls in Cass Kimball, his sometime partner, a leather-wearing dominatrix with some pretty fierce detective chops herself. And it soon becomes apparent that Duck will need all the help he can get, as the story bounces from the Big Apple to the Hamptons and back, with all sorts of nasties popping up and bodies dropping as the stakes rise and the excitement gets ramped up to action-flick levels.

Sure, all that heavy breathing is enjoyable enough. But unnecessary, given how taken I was with Duck and Cass.

Mr. Barrett? You had me at “The beating felt good....”

Kevin Burton Smith
Teri Duerr
August 2019
Kensington Books