A roman a clef, a mystery story, a legal thriller, a travelogue? Crime of Privilege doesn’t really fit fairly and squarely into any of these genres, although it has aspects of them all — and, indeed, more. What it is is one of the most engrossing, involving novels I’ve read all year.
No-longer-quite-so-young George Becket is among the lowliest of the lawyers working in the (presumably fictitious) Cape & Islands DA’s office on Cape Cod, his standard fare being OUI cases. The only real friend he has in the department is his office-mate, Barbara Belbonnet. Both are aware that they got their jobs only because of their social connections: Barbara because the Belbonnets are old Cape Cod bluebloods, George because, years ago, he witnessed a borderline rape committed by two scions of the politically powerful Gregory family and, although he didn’t lie about what he’d seen, his failure to volunteer information ensured that charges were never brought.
The victim was, though, the daughter of an equally powerful and not especially scrupulous magnate, whose rather terrifying intermediary periodically visits George to remind him that the case will never be closed until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
But then George is approached by someone at the opposite end of the spectrum of influence, Bill Telford, known to the authorities as “Anything New” because that’s the question he keeps asking about the case of his daughter Heidi, murdered a few years ago during or just after a Gregory family party. Bill thinks the cops and the DA are just burying the investigation because of the Gregory connection, and it doesn’t take George long to discover Bill’s right . . .
What stands out in Crime of Privilege is the sheer quality of the writing: restrained, dry, sometimes caustically witty, it’s an absolute delight to read. This isn’t a novel for people who demand instant gratification or non-stop action; it’s quite cerebral, to be honest, the action sequences being few and far between — and only one of them makes a genuine attempt to set the pulse racing. The suspense — and I found it building up to quite a pitch — lies in the measured progress of George’s gradual uncovering of the truth about Heidi’s death and the nature of his own guilt in connection with the earlier crime.
And there’s also a very pleasing love story that plays a tangential part — very pleasing because neither partner is on paper an ideal match for the other and one of them is very flawed, and yet the bond they eventually form is all the greater for that.
I can understand that, with its avoidance of sensationalism, this might not be the book for everyone, but for me it hit the spot just right. One to savor, remember, and very likely reread. In the meantime, there are other Walter Walker novels out there I should track down . . .