The New York Times
By Marilyn Stasio
Short of robbing a bank, an established genre author can't make a bolder midcareer move than trying out a hero in a prospective series. Justin Scott takes the plunge in HARDSCAPE (Viking, $19.95) and comes up with an amateur sleuth named Benjamin Abbott 3d, an easy-to-take charmer with a bright future.
Despite his high principles ("I wasn't a liar") and scrupulous manners (he stakes his aunt's delphiniums and woos the ladies by brewing tea), this Connecticut Yankee has his quirks. Before taking over his family's flagging real estate business in the colonial town of Newbury, Ben was a Wall Street raider who did hard time in Leavenworth for insider trading. Reflecting, no doubt, a gap in his rehabilitation, the flawed hero accepts $5,000 to take video footage of a rich man's wife cavorting with her lover. Ben ditches the job when his moral code belatedly kicks in, but he can't shake his guilt when the lover is murdered or when his own favorite cousin is killed in what might be a related crime.
Mr. Scott's clean, succinct style smooths the way for a tight plot, lean dialogue and neat characterizations of the people who live on both sides of Newbury's social tracks. Best of all, there's Ben, a likable guy of sound mind and decent character, but with a shrewd sense of his limitations. In a field of fiction overrun with middle-aged boys and girls at play, let's call him an unreconstructed grown-up.
Scott's new hero, small-town Connecticut realtor Ben Abbott, is one romantic guy. He did hard time in Leavenworth for insider trading, even though he was technically innocent, just because he'd been greedy; after reluctantly accepting wealthy Jack Long's commission (via his New York investigator Alex Rose) to videotape his stunning painter wife Rita's adulterous sessions with her model--Jack's partner, Ron Pearlman--he falls for the couple, tosses the video away, and almost gets caught for his trouble; and when he finds Ron dead on the Longs' palatial grounds the next day, he's convinced by the tender way Rita handles the corpse that she can't be guilty. He doesn't want to investigate further, though, because--here's the kicker--he's busy trying to clear the name of his self-made cousin Renny Chevalley, apparently shot over a drug deal. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if the two murders were somehow connected? Smartly observed and solidly plotted, with subplots that linger just long enough to bring out Ben's charm. Veteran suspenser Scott (The Nine Dragons, 1991, etc.) may have struck gold with this new series.
Crackling with energy, this double-barreled mystery from the author of Many Happy Returns auspiciously launches an appealing new hero lightly brushed with sleaze. Benjamin Abbot III, a former investigator for Naval Intelligence and a Wall Street bond trader who served time for insider dealing, now runs the family real estate agency in his upscale hometown of Newbury, Conn. A New York City PI working for wealthy businessman Jack Long, who owns a weekend estate in Newbury, offers Ben $5000 to videotape Jack's artist wife Rita with her lover. Ben, who wants to winterize his barn, uneasily accepts. Midway through the job, however, his conscience wins out and he destroys the tape. The next day, the lover is found murdered on the Long's property and Rita is arrested. That evening, the body of Ben's reputable cousin Renny is discovered in a small plane, shot through the head and sprinkled with cocaine. Are the murders connected? Rita hires Ben to find her lover's killer, retaining him even after he tells her about the taping. As the decent--and not so nice--citizens of Newbury, who have lifted gossip to a new art form, talk about the crime, Ben picks up key information from an unlikely source. This is a tightly knit, continually engrossing mystery, with a warm-hearted sleuth who deftly blends skills gleaned from prep school, Wall street and Leavenworth.