Friday, February 18, 2011

William G. Tapply: The Brady Coyne Series

In November 2010, the 25th -- and final -- Brady Coyne novel from William G. Tapply was published, a little more than a year after the author's unexpected death. Sixty-nine is too young to go, when you're on a roll like this one. And what a roll it was: From the first Brady Coyne mystery in 1984. DEATH AT CHARITY'S POINT, to the polished gem of OUTWITTING TROLLS (at a guess, a working title, one that gives the spice of a very different point of view to the arc of the tale).

I haven't been a Tapply reader until recently. OUTWITTING TROLLS is a smooth, irresistible work of detective fiction, not quite dark enough to be noir, not quite sweet enough for cozy, but neatly plotted and full of heart. I can see why Kate Mattes, the noted bookseller of Kate's Mystery Books, compared Tapply and Robert Parker in Tapply's obituary; that sense of heart, of being willing to be fully human and determined and risk-taking but also honestly apologetic and willing to start over -- that's what Parker's protagonists and Boston-based lawyer Brady Coyne share, and I suspect the authors shared something similar.

As OUTWITTING TROLLS opens, Coyne is enjoying reconnecting with an old friend, from the days when he and his veterinarian neighbor Ken Nichols were both still married, with children around the same ages, and able to assist each other: Nichols for the Coyne pets, Coyne for the Nichols business legalities. And although their divorces shattered the pretty images, the two men still converse as the old, good friends they were -- and may be again.

When Nichols's ex-wife finds him murdered the next day, though, it's Brady Coyne she calls for help.

I didn't expect to be so caught up in the gentle pursuit that Coyne begins, but ... I was, and I didn't put the book down until it was done. It's a satisfying ending, with just the right number of clues to feel fair, and enough work to feel that Coyne earned the finale.

Then I pulled out Dave's copy of the first of Tapply's novels, also a Brady Coyne one: DEATH AT CHARITY'S POINT. You can feel the edginess in this one, the choppy sentences, the phrasings that derive from the pulps, the classic noir, the old-time detective stories. And it's good to see what a quarter century of attentive writing and joyful living did for the author, enriching his storytelling and making him able to say nice things without sounding saccharine. I like the online page where Tapply describes the choices he made for that first book, and for the series.

I'll be reading more of these. There's a good list of them on Tapply's website, of course, along with the handful of other detective novels and nonfiction books that he crafted. It's a good heritage; I have to guess, it's the work of a good person, working hard, long, and with hope.

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