The New York Times
By Marilyn Stasio
You couldn't ask for a more picturesque demise -- on a quaint covered bridge in "the prettiest town in New England" -- than the one arranged for Reg Hopkins in Justin Scott's StoneDust (Viking, $19.95). Not that Reg was in any shape to appreciate his artistic death scene: according to a state trooper in Newbury, Conn., the upstanding young businessman died from a heroin "hotload." The ambitious executives and grasping entrepreneurs in Reg's smart set would like to hush up the nasty business and just get on with their P.T.A. meetings and Jacuzzi orgies. Only Benjamin Abbott 3d, a descendant of the Yankee ministers and horse traders who originally settled Newbury, tries to clear the reputation of his childhood friend. Speaking in wry, dry accents as the witty narrator of these suburban scandals, Ben is not a sweet talker or a fast talker, but a genuine smoothie. A former Wall Streeter who did time in Leavenworth for insider trading, this offbeat freelance sleuth is currently eking out a cleaner, duller living as a realtor. Ben lays some lovely traps for the social parvenus whose moral values are no less dubious than their business ethics. But it's his sardonic views on his self-important neighbors that give this sophisticated series its unexpected and wholly dlicious tartness.
On target again, Edgar-nominee Scott (Many Happy Returns; HardScape) delivers another literate, witty and absorbing mystery starring Ben Abbott, the former Wall Street high-roller who, having done time for financial misdealing, now sells real estate in his hometown of Newbury, Conn. Here Abbott calls on his self-described ``half-assed'' investigative skills to prove that a childhood friend did not die from a ``hotload,'' a heroin overdose. When the coroner reports that heroin did indeed cause the death of Reg Hopkins, whose body was discovered on a covered bridge, Abbott focuses more on the why than the how of the man's demise. A lot of their old friends aren't talking. Among these are the couple who had a Jacuzzi party for a select group of Newbury's nouveaux riches the night Hopkins died. Hopkins was not invited-but was he the mystery party crasher? Setting this simmering tale of money, sex and drugs in picturesque Newbury, with its colonial homes, fine lawns and blooming azaleas, Scott creates a mixture guaranteed to hook new readers and bring old ones back for more.
The hottest gossip topic in Newbury, that Shangri-la of pastoral Connecticut, isn't the spicy sleep-over party Duane and Michelle Fisk and their Jacuzzi planned for three other swinging couples after the lesser guests went home at 9 p.m.; it's the discovery the next morning of Duane's best buddy, Reg Hopkins, dead of a heroin overdose, demurely sitting inside his Blazer in the middle of a distant covered bridge. Pressed to investigate by Janey Hopkins, distraught that she's been widowed before she and her lawyer-lover could finish divorcing Reg, insider-trader- turned-realtor Ben Abbott (HardScape, 1994) wonders if Reg, who had a long history of party-crashing, could have been the extra guest seen ducking out of the Fisks' in the dead of night; if he could have died to protect some dirty secret about land development or the impending town election; and even if it was really heroin that killed him. With ideas like these, it's no wonder that Ben soon leaves his fickle client in the dust, finds a pair of uninvited Waterbury low-lifes climbing his stairs after he's retired, and (yes) digs up a surprise witness who can place Reg at that fatal party. But then the real work begins: Which one of the beautiful guests inveigled all the others into covering up a murder? Conscientious, overgalvanized adventures among the Junior League set.