ROBERT RAY – Dial “M” for Murdock. Matt Murdock #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1988. Dell, paperback, May 1990. Camel Press, softcover, 2018.

   Robert Ray is an English professor, so who am I to argue, but he likes prologues in books, and I still don’t, especially when they’re as useless as the one in this book, the third in his PI Matt Murdock series. Actually it’s worse than useless, and I tell you about it after I tell you what the book’s about.

   What it is that’s going on is an elaborate scam being pulled on various life insurance companies. Murdock is drawn in, falls in love with one of the “widows,” and along the way does very little detective work himself. (It’s nice to have friends who are computer whizzes.)

   [WARNING: Plot Alert!] Murdock tells his own story in this book, all but for the prologue, and that’s where we learn all we really need to know for about 90% of the plot yet to come. Not so for Murdock, who is left completely in the dark about what happened before he came along.

   This makes first half of the book is pretty much wasted, whiel we (the reader) watch him as he pieces together everything we knew ever since the book started.

   There is a lot of action in this book, but as I mentioned up above, there is very little in the way of brainwork going on. What is somewhat unusual and worth pointing out, is that there is a vein of crime so deep here that the masterminds behind it are hardly even annoyed by the local police department, much less rugged individualist PI’s. Ants under their feet, no more.

   And so what chance does Murdock have? None, and that’s what the epilogue tells is as well. (Yes, one of those, too, and it’s about as interesting as someone breathing heavily in a sandstorm.)

   There is a unique aspect of the ending, however, something I don’t believe either Spenser or Marlowe had to deal with, and while you’ll have to read the story yourself to know what it is I’m talking about — and this I won’t tell you — if it has any precedent in PI fiction over the years, I wish you’d let me know right away.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #22, June 1990.

      The PI Matt Murdock series —

Bloody Murdock (1986)

Murdock for Hire (1987)
Dial “M” for Murdock (1988)
Merry Christmas, Murdock (1989)
Murdock Cracks Ice (1992)
Murdock Tackles Taos (2013)
Murdock Rocks Sedona (2015)