WILLIAM G. TAPPLY – The Snake Eater. Brady Coyne #12. Otto Penzler Books, hardcover, 1993. Minotaur Books, softcover, 2000, as one of three novels in Snake Eater/Seventh Enemy/Close to the Bone: A Brady Coyne Omnibus.

   I’ve enjoyed Tapply’s stories of Boston lawyer Brady Coyne over the years. Evidently others have, too, judging from the series’ longevity and Otto Penzler snapping Tapply up for his new press. Though Coyne is a lawyer, it should be noted for those new to the series that these are not “lawyer” books, and that he really functions more as a private detective.

   The book opens with a man whom we do not know being stabbed to death in a NYC subway. Then we shift to our hero Brady as he receives a call from his old friend in the Justice Department, Charlie McDivitt, asking him to defend a Viet Nam vet who has been busted for growing marijuana in his back yard.

   It develops that the vet is a victim of Agent Orange poisoning and needs the evil weed to alleviate his symptoms. Coyne prepares for a tough case, but the charges are dropped unexpectedly, and no one is willing to say why. Then the vet is brutally murdered, and no one seems terribly interested in finding out why, or by whom — except, of course, Coyne.

   Tapply does his usual job of smooth storytelling, and Coyne is his usual engaging self. There is a bit of middle-aged soul searching on his part as one of his relationships goes awry, which serves to deepen the characterization a bit.

   The eventual resolution of the plot in its broad outline (if not all details) was discernible early on, as perhaps it was meant to be. It was not terribly credible to me, and the identity of the killer still less so. Tapply remains one of the better in the field in terms of readable prose, but I found this to be a distinctly minor effort. I wasn’t sorry I read it, but I wish there had been more there. He can do, and has done, better.

— Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #9, September 1993.

Editorial Comments:   William G. Tapply was last mentioned on this blog back in 2009, at the time of his death. Included in that post was a complete bibliography for him. The Snake Eater was the 12th Brady Coyne novel out of 24, not counting three crossover outings with J. W. Jackson and Tapply’s fellow author and good friend Philip R Craig.

   It has been over two years since one of Barry Gardner’s reviews has graced the pages of this blog. Other than the fact that some of the reviews I have access to cannot be scanned but must be re-typed from scratch, there has been no big reason for this.

   For those of you who may not familiar with Barry Gardner, let me repeat my introduction to the first of his reviews to appear here:

   I never met Barry myself. He lived in Texas, I lived in Connecticut. He attended mystery conventions, I seldom did nor have I since. But we were in DAPA-Em together, and we enjoyed each other’s reviews there, and swapped mailing comments there. We were friends, albeit through the mail and through each other’s zines only.

   Barry worked for the Dallas Fire Department until his retirement in 1989, but he didn’t discover mystery fandom for another two years or so. Ah, Sweet Mysteries was the name of the zine that he produced for the apa, each of them running 20 pages or more. Besides his own zine, his reviews began popping up in all of the major, well-known mystery fanzines of the day: The Armchair Detective, CADS, Deadly Pleasures and many others. You name it, he was there.

   Not only was he prolific, but he always managed to put his finger on what made each novel he reviewed work, or (in such cases) why it didn’t. Instinctively and incisively, he seemed to know detective and mystery fiction inside out. He had a critical eye, but he invariably used it softly while cutting immediately to the essence of a story.

   Barry died in 1996 — suddenly, without any warning. George Easter, who still publishes Deadly Pleasures, almost immediately set up the Barry Awards in his name, to honor the Best in Detective and Mystery Fiction on a yearly basis. See George’s website for more information.

   I’m pleased more than I can say that Barry’s wife Ellen has granted me permission to reprint Barry’s reviews from Ah, Sweet Mysteries on this blog. Thank you, Ellen, very much.