Dial “M” for Murdock, by Robert J. Ray: Faked Deaths and Real Murders

In Dial “M” for Murdock ($14.95, 286 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-885-8), by Robert J. Ray, private-eye Matt Murdock investigates a series of deaths involving debt-ridden businessmen who have been living suspiciously high on the hog. Originally published in 1988, Dial “M” is Ray’s third Matt Murdock Murder Mystery. Camel Press has brought all five books in the series back into print and will be releasing an all-new title, Murdock Tackles Taos, in 2013. For more information about the entire series, click here.

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“Ray’s well-wrought consideration of what can happen to those overtaken by ‘greedy little-boy dreams’ will leave readers eager for the next Murdock adventure.”

—Publisher’s Weekly

“Fast, accomplished and slick.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Crusty but softhearted Matt Murdock is a damn fine private-eye, but being his client has its hazards. Especially when you’re not straight with him.

Insurance investigator Bruce Halliburton hires his old army buddy to check into what he suspects is a faked death and winds up on LA’s Huntington Beach, dead for real. That leaves Roxanne, the lovely widow Bruce was “protecting”—the same Roxanne whose chubby husband, Emiliano Mendez-Madrid, died of a heart attack after insuring his life ten times over.

How is Roxanne Mendez-Madrid connected to Claude Belker, the subject of Bruce’s investigation? Claude is also officially “deceased,” and he’s one of several heavily insured, supposedly dead rich guys. Then there’s Claude’s girlfriend—Mary-Sue, aka Sheena, a glossy exotic dancer …. Who knows what about the case? What’s Roxanne up to? And where are Emiliano’s missing millions, the spoils of money-laundering for drug lords?

Roxanne hires Matt to find the money and keep her safe. Now he smells trouble. If he falls too hard for the widow and connects all the dots, he might just end up decorated with a line of lead like his old pal Bruce.

ROBERT J. RAY is the author of eight novels: Cage of Mirrors, The Heart of the Game, Bloody Murdock, Murdock for Hire, The Hitman Cometh, Dial “M” for Murdock, Murdock Cracks Ice, and Merry Christmas, Murdock. Ray is also the author of a popular non-fiction series on writing, The Weekend Novelist, and he shares writing techniques on writing at BobandJacksWritingBlog.com. A native of Texas, Ray holds a PhD from the University of Texas, Austin. Tuesdays and Fridays, he writes at Louisa’s Bakery and Café in Seattle.

Read on for an excerpt:

“Where are you, Bruce? Where are you calling from?”

Bruce sighed. “All right. There are some bits and pieces I haven’t told you. Look. Let’s schedule a meet tomorrow morning. I’ll ring you when I’m free. I’ll buy your breakfast and fill you in. Deal?”

“Why not tonight?”

“Sorry. I’m otherwise … ah … occupied. Hope you understand.”

A woman. How nice for Bruce. “Okay. What time tomorrow?”

“Ten or so. I’ll just dial ‘M’ for Murdock.” He chuckled. “Now, how about those numbers on the little dancer?”

“Tomorrow, Bruce.” I hung up. Bruce was jerking me around and I knew what that meant. His need for Murdock was finished.

After hanging up, I stared at the television as the zany weatherman reported on the force of a small tidal wave in Alaska. I like weathermen. They’re crazy. They get glee out of nature. Honest rip-roaring glee. Maybe I should have been a weatherman. There was one swallow of Bud left. I finished that on my way to the fridge for another can. Bruce’s gin bottle sat on the top shelf, keeping cool, waiting for the next dry martini. I popped open the Bud and stood leaning against the island, staring at the television, thinking about Bruce.

Superagent Bruce Halliburton was the original Golden Boy—East Coast upbringing, Harvard degree, Navy career, a decade hanging out in the marble halls of government in Washington, D.C., coat and tie required—and now he was working the marble halls at Heartland Mutual and still wearing his coat and tie. He’d hired me to poke around in the life of Claude Belker. Move fast, he’d said, and save the company millions. I’d uncovered a girl friend, bikers, boots, some poker cronies, a mountain hideaway with the power still on. I smelled a conspiracy. Leads were piling up, begging to be tracked down, but Bruce wasn’t eager for me to do the follow-ups on Mendez-Madrid and the poker crowd.

Why not?

The phone dragged me out of a dream about a muddy brown river crowded with crocodiles. On the bank of the river people were waiting in line to board a barge. A gong sounded each time someone boarded. Bong. The mallet was swung by a bald-headed monk wearing a white cassock. When I moved in for a close-up of the next man waiting to board, I saw he wore a white death mask.

Bong.

I fumbled with the receiver, one foot still locked in the dream. My bedside clock said 6:48. The light outside my window was dark gray. I was up on one elbow, and my ribcage was sore from being on the receiving end of the geek’s chain.

“Yo.”

“Mr. Murdock?” It was a woman’s voice, soft, liquid, and low.

“Yes.”

“I’m a … friend of … Bruce Halliburton.”

I rolled over to lie on my back. “Wonderful.”

“He said to phone you if he didn’t get back by six-thirty.”

I checked the clock again. 6:49. “Why don’t we give him another ten?”

There was a pause. “I woke you up, didn’t I?”

“Yes.” I still didn’t know her name or her connection to Bruce. Was she the voice in the background?

“I got … nervous. When he didn’t get back, I mean.”

“Where did he go?”

“To meet someone.”

“What time?”

“Just before five.”

In the back of my head a tiny alarm sounded. “Do you have any idea where the meeting was?”

“Somewhere on the beach. When he left, he told me he would be back by six-thirty. If he didn’t get back, I was to call you.”

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