“Do No Harm” by Robert Pobi (Minotaur)
Lucas Page retired from the FBI more than a decade ago after losing an eye, an arm and a leg in an explosion. But Lucas is a man of unique talents, so once again, in “Do No Harm,” the third book in Robert Pobi’s series, the office needs his help.
This time, he is again paired with Special Agent Alice Whitaker who, due to an incident that occurred on her last case, walks with a cane. Meanwhile, Page’s upstairs neighbor is a double amputee and another main character, New York City police detective Johnny Russo, has a glass eye.
The abundance of mangled body parts feels ridiculous, but Pobi takes a deadly serious tone with the plot, leaving readers unsure whether to laugh with him or at him.
The plot is set in motion when Lucas, a scholar who can identify patterns in vast collections of data, realizes that an inexplicably large number of New York City doctors have been dying. However, readers may find it strange that it took a genius to spot this.
The deaths have been attributed to a variety of causes, including accidents, drug overdoses and suicide, but Lucas’s statistical analysis concludes that they have been murdered. After starting to investigate him, he discovers that a handful of people have recently been arrested for trying to kill doctors. However, none of them seem to have a motive.
Murder attempts for no reason? What could be happening? Pobi has Lucas figure this out until the genie finally stumbles upon the obvious on page 266. Anyone who’s seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” which includes just about everyone who reads crime novels, would have seen it. immediate. It’s the old trope of you do my murder and I’ll do yours. However, in the film there was only one murder. In “Do No Harm”, it’s happening on a grand scale.
Once Lucas realizes this, he spends the rest of the book solving a mystery that best suits his talents: Who has organized a large number of people to trade in murder, and why?
Lucas’s total lack of social skills is oddly endearing, his ability to cope with his physical limitations make him a compelling character, and Pobi is a quirky and talented writer.
However, the author tries too hard to be clever, cluttering his prose with technical names for everyday things and bombarding readers with historical and popular culture references. On a handful of pages, for example, he throws out references to Ferris Bueller, Albert Speer, Tom Waits, Nietzsche, Harvey Keitel, Zarathustra, and George and Weezie from “The Jeffersons.” He should cut that.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Edgar Award for Mystery Writers of America, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels, including “The Dread Line.”