It’s got two of the most popular words in local fiction these days in its title: “death” and “Hampton.” When joined, these two words announce the subject matter of Walter Marks’s new novel, introducing Suffolk County Detective Neil Jericho, lately of East Harlem.
But Death Hampton (Top Tier Lit) is not a whodunit or even a what, why, how, where or whendunit—all of which are clear from the opening chapters. There is a twist, however: a last-minute life-and-death scramble, which includes some Buddhist body/spirit control maneuvers. But these, too, were part of earlier speculations, and the resolution, while leaving Jericho free to go on to the next book in the series, does raise some unintended ethical questions about getting away with intended murder.
Beautiful blonde 30-something Susannah Cascadden, who teaches dance to kids in Montauk, nicely engineered herself into marriage with a rich, older real estate mogul (and a nasty, nasty man), Burt Cascadden. One day he goes too far, abusing her sexually, and later, after she has overheard him hiring a hit man to do her in, they fight. In her fury, she batters him with a piece of furniture repeatedly, and inadvertently kills him. Somehow, she lugs his fat body to the ocean, where it disappears. Shortly after that, a blackmailing scumbag who takes photos of unsuspecting nude women, and has seen what she’s done, pays her a visit—with incriminating evidence. He also tries to rape her, and in self-defense, she kills him, too. A third man also winds up dead, but at the hands of Detective Jericho, who has come to question Susannah and sees her being attacked. In the midst of all this, Marks inserts paragraphs about the area and its diverse denizens, including Bonackers and the Shinnecock.
Marks, who is a novelist, playwright (Langston in Harlem) and songwriter (“I Gotta Be Me”), obviously had a good time creating the troubled but compelling Jericho and the sexy but morally ambivalent Susannah, along with inner italicized ruminations that provide sympathetic backstories. Alas, the whole does not cohere, and the plot seems predictable and overly coincidental. It’s nice, though, to welcome Jericho, a decent man, into the fold.