WILLIAM G. TAPPLY – Cutter’s Run.  St. Martin’s Press; paperback reprint, November 2002. Hardcover first edition: St. Martin’s, 1998.


   Tapply has been writing the Brady Coyne books for a long time, since 1984, and for some reason he’s still not the big name in the mystery field I think he should be after nearly 20 years. Note that it took almost four and a half years for this one to move from hardcover to paperback. By any standard that’s a long time to be kept on hold.

   I think that Tapply may be working against the grain — that the current market is demanding fluffier and fleecier female fiction, while the machio-er and male-oriented mysteries are left to manage for themselves.

   But to the case at hand. Coyne is a low-profile Boston attorney who seems to run into mysterious doings wherever he goes. This time it’s swastikas in Maine, a poisoned dog, and a reclusive African-American lady who then disappears. Tapply’s prose is deceptively smooth, like the surface of a quiet pond suddenly revealing gnarly snags below. One of his greatest assets as a writer is the shivery sort of anticipation he produces when you (think you) know what’s coming.


   Coyne has been spending his weekends in the small, rustic, backwoods country town of Garrison with a lady friend named Alex. From the outside they seem to be very compatible, but there are hints of trouble there too. Besides the mystery, a good deal of the rest of the story is about a huge communications gap between the sexes that — from a sympathetic male point of view — mystifies me as much as it does Brady Coyne.

   Tapply is a smooth, experienced writer, but where he may be the weakest, or so it seemed to me this time around, is in the detective end of things. Coyne gets the local sheriff interested in the case easily enough — in fact, he even makes Coyne a deputy — but why is it that he (Coyne) is the only one to investigate the missing woman’s home? Brady also does a lot of other detective work, but the case is solved by what amounts (in retrospect) as near happenstance.

   So is this what’s holding Tapply back? He’s good, but he’s just never found the key to what would make him great? Or is it — and this is what I hinted at this before — that he’s a male writer in a field where the Sisters in Crime are now the leading edge?

— November 2002 (revised)

[UPDATE] 11-17-08.   Bill Tapply and Brady Coyne are still going strong, I’m happy to say, no matter what I wrote back then, with books and more adventures showing up on the shelves at Borders on a regular basis. I still don’t think he gets the recognition he deserves, not nearly as much as he should have, after a career as long as his — and it’s not over yet!