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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Murder by the Numbers by Steve Leshin is a historical murder mystery and the fifth book in the Joshua Oates Adventure series, preceded by Vengeance of the Ripper, Target of Fear, A Darker Shade of Greed, and The Killer's Code. As with the others, the protagonist is former police squad leader turned private investigator, Joshua Oats. Now in New York, Oates is thrown three hitches in quick succession: an envelope of cash, a ransacked office, and the death one Roger Astor, the latter both being not who Oates knew him to be and leading to suspicion that it wasn't a cut and dry heart attack, and the blink and you'll miss it abduction of Madeleine Astor. Set during the 1920s Prohibition era and complete with tommy guns and mafioso led by a French national, and with names like Hacksaw Hank, Nick the Nose, and Tony Two Times, Oates is roped back in as a government contractor to help solve the connected murder and arms dealing cases, neither of which are anything like they seem.
And the Academy Award for the best ancillary character in a book series goes to Bruno the enforcer! I think one of the areas that author Steve Leshin is most skilled in is the development of characters and this is as apparent as ever in Murder by the Numbers. With Joshua Oates, a reader has the benefit of the long game. He is, after all, the name on the book jacket. The same goes for those who share continuity between the stories like love interest Angie Lang. The characters that have to be developed on the fly are the most impressive, and antagonist Adrian Desharde and his right-hand Bruno are so exceptional that you almost care about them at first. Leshin throws some spanners in the works and a couple of red herrings, both the character and plot twists, and the narrative and dialogue suit the time period deliciously. Lovers of classic fiction will be tickled by characters that sound like they jumped out of a James Bond novel, like the triple barrel Germanically named Darla Von Hatteburg. Somewhere out in the afterlife, Ian Flemming is nodding in appreciation and saying, “Well played, Leshin. Well played.” Very highly recommended.