Warren Murphy's Digger / Trace Series
Digger 1 Smoked Out by Warren Murphy
Warren Murphy is best known for his Destroyer series about a five-thousand-year-old House of Assassins, but he is also an award-winning mystery writer. Smoked Out is the first book in a series that would ultimately span two publishers. It’s a little bit slow to get started. Digger is an alcoholic gambler who gets called in by the CEO of an insurance company to investigate strange cases with high payouts. That’s very important. His job isn’t finding a murderer or a thief or protecting someone like a cop or a private investigator might do, it’s looking for insurance fraud or some way to void an insurance claim. And it isn’t often clear that there is fraud—his cases are just peculiar.
In this first novel, Digger is asked to look into a case in which a woman drove her car off a hill and died. Nothing actually looks wrong about the case except that the insurance company owes a million dollars on the claim. The police are convinced its an accident. And frankly, Digger is leaning that way too, but he starts investigating and he’s interesting to watch, even though things are a little slow moving in the first chapters.
He's just about to give up when two guys decide to beat him in an attempted “mugging,” convincing him to look a little more. The story heats up very quickly after that. I love the solution to this case. It’s a lot of little things that build a very convincing picture of a bad guy who did something very wrong.
It’s a great mystery.
Digger 2 Fool’s Flight by Warren Murphy
A private plane goes down with forty people and its pilot—each of whom had just taken out a $250,000 insurance policy at an airport vending machine. Digger is asked to find out if there’s any reason at all his insurance company could refuse to pay the money. Once again, Murphy has put together a fascinating case with great little clues. But the best part of the book is that Digger’s Japanese girlfriend, a genius-IQ blackjack dealer (and sometimes prostitute) gets a lot more screen time in this novel than she did in the first. She’s a fabulous character who is smarter than Digger. Her relationship with him is at times troubling and at times very cute. Neither are particularly faithful, both clearly care deeply about each other, but are too personally messed up to commit to a normal relationship.
Once again, a great story with a great solution.
Digger 3 Dead Letter
This is easily the best of the Digger novels yet. Digger is asked by his boss to check in on his college-aged daughter when he travels to Boston. Digger does so only to discover two things – the daughter is not the sheltered young near-nun that her father thinks she is, and someone is trying to frighten her and just possibly murder her. The mechanism for scaring her is a chain letter which has a list of people who are going to die. The first name on the list is someone that the girl had, herself, put on a dorm joke-list of people the world would be better off without—a person who has just died in an alleged accident. But more people on the list die and then the girl’s name appears on it too.
There’s a lot of tension in this fast-moving mystery, but the clues are all there for anyone paying enough attention to figure them out. (I did figure it out, which of course, makes me think even more highly of the mystery.)
My biggest concern with the novel was that Digger’s girlfriend, Koko, wouldn’t appear since she and he live in Las Vegas and the story is in Boston, but fortunately she does get to contribute to both the mystery and the story.
Digger 4 Lucifer’s Weekend by Warren Murphy
Digger is back with another crazy case. A woman is refusing to accept half of a million dollar insurance payout because she cannot believe her husband was so stupid or careless that he accidentally electrocuted himself. Digger’s insurance company is concerned that if she doesn’t accept the full amount they might be liable to a lawsuit down the road when the woman realized how foolish she was being. So, Digger goes to a small Pennsylvania town to convince her and ends up looking into the incident and suspecting that the man had actually been murdered.
This has a great cast of characters—especially a wonderfully depicted eight-year-old girl with a genius-plus level IQ. It’s a delight to watch Digger slowly get himself motivated to find out what was really going on, and his lazy personality leads him not to take a precaution that would have protected him from the events at the end of the book. Usually, when something like that happens, I get irritated at the author for lazy writing, but not this time. Digger’s lapse was totally in character.
Perhaps the best thing about the crime was how easy it actually was to prove that the official story could not have happened. It sums up the situation in the town perfectly. This one is another gem in the series.