By People Staff
September 22, 1986 12:00 PM

by William J. Caunitz

Caunitz, an ex-police detective who began his writing career with One Police Plaza, is back with another insider’s version of a New York City whodunit. It starts out when nice old candy store owner Yetta Zimmerman gives her policeman friend a hug one day, thanking him for a birthday cake he’s brought her. Within seconds the two of them are blasted away: “Shards of bone and gray gobs of brain were scattered about…A severed arm lay in a pile of whipped cream. Fragments of cake and raspberry icing…settled into the gore.” Caunitz’ 30 years on the force have obviously given him an eye for detail. The murder investigation is turned over to Tony Scanlon, a 1½-legged detective who is a toned down brand of Philip Marlowe. He’s an Irish-Italian cynic, with endearing streaks of weakness and gentility, who squeezes in an hour or so a day of Richard Simmons aerobics. The central question is which of the two hit victims was the target. The dead cop’s name is Joe Gallagher and he was a pillar of the police community, NYPD Catholic Man of the Year, past president of the Holy Name Society. But what are these pictures of barely clad women wielding plastic adult toys that Scanlon comes across in Gallagher’s locker? The candy store owner, a widowed immigrant, is an unlikely candidate for suspicion until her son is assassinated and her daughter is found making strange pilgrimages to a safe deposit box. While Scanlon is fitting together tidbits of information (traces of moisturizer found on peanut shells become a turning point in the case) he’s also sorting out his love life. He has restricted his romancing to a hooker with a thing for invalids ever since losing his leg in the line of duty. But he silently pines for the lady judge he had fallen in love with many years before. Trouble is, he’s impotent when he’s with her. The hooker plies him with therapeutic pearls of wisdom, picked up from a blind psychiatrist client, to help him: “Don’t you know that to receive love, you first have to learn how to give it?” Such unlikely characters are offset by Caunitz’ convincing cops, who are depicted neither as superheroes nor idiots. The breaks in the case are as often a result of sheer chance as of sleuthing, and influence is realistically exerted through the medium of favors done and favors owed. This is a crime novel that sounds as informed as it is entertaining. (Crown, $17.95)