Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

Collar Robber

Collar Robber: A Crime Story Featuring Jay Davidovich and Cynthia Jakubek by Hillary Bell Locke (Poisoned Pen Press, 414.95, 296 pages)

We got the deal done at two in the afternoon my time, which meant that Shifcos was clocking some major overtime. We’d fenced a bit, mostly for pride’s sake I think. Just before noon she’d written, ‘I need you to come off $170K,’ so I knew we had it made. All we were arguing about was bragging rights.

Right up front on the first page author Hillary Bell Locke makes it perfectly clear that she’s using a non de plume; however, she’s a bona fide lawyer with a Harvard Law School degree as is her main female character, Cynthia Jakubek, who was featured in a prior book by Ms. Locke. Moreover, none of the characters are people with whom Ms. Locke is acquainted or related. She must delight in creating goofy names like Dany Nesselrode and Amber Gris. There are more of them throughout the tale, but I digress.

The key to understanding what’s happening in this very convoluted insurance investigation crime story is missing from the book. That element is a chart listing all of the named characters. In this book every one of them counts. No need to designate whether the individuals are good or bad. Each of them crosses the imaginary line, or at a minimum, sidles up close to it. The confusion arises because, sometimes the reader sees a name, such as Mr. Szulz, and at other times he’s Willy. There’s C. Talbot Rand, AKA Tally and Proxeine Violet (Proxy) Shifcos who answers to both her nickname and her surname.

Actually, a multi-part grid might be a better element than a chart. The characters are primarily Catholic, Jewish, rich or struggling. For example, Cynthia Jakubek is Catholic and struggling whereas Sean McGoeghan is Catholic and beyond rich. Lucky for Cynthia, Sean believes in her abilities and provides a hefty annual retainer to assist with her budding law practice.

All the fuss and negotiating centers around a painting, Eros Rising, which was coerced from its Jewish owner, Gustav Wehring, during World War II by, you guessed it, the Nazis. Fast forward to present day Pittsburgh, where Herr Wehring’s descendants have approached the Pittsburgh Museum of Twentieth-Century Art with a demand for the return of their family treasure. The painting is the main draw for visitors to the privately funded museum. It is insured for $50 million by Transoxana Insurance Company – Proxy and Jay Davidovich’s employer. Cynthia represents Willy Szulz who may be able to clarify the legitimacy of the museum’s ownership of the painting for a hefty price.

Fortunately for the reader, Ms. Locke believes in sticking to a timeline. Wording such as “The Last Thursday in March” designates each section of the book. She presents the action in the form of a narrative from the perspective of either Cynthia or Jay. Each of them is clearly in a separate bargaining camp when it comes to the painting. That’s not to say they are complete adversaries. There’s plenty of transoceanic travel by several of the key characters that manage to get themselves into precarious situations. Puns and double entendres are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. These giggles and some outlandish predicaments are reasons enough to read it.

You may be wondering where the title of this review originates. Readers of a certain age – make that an older age – will recognize it as the name of a very popular radio serial from 1949 through 1962. It was a favorite of this reviewer for three reasons: firstly, our family did not own a television until 1962; secondly, the stories were fascinating; thirdly, my beloved grandfather was a claims investigator for the Prudential Life Insurance Company of America. His stories were really good, maybe even better than Ms. Locke’s or those broadcast on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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