Brian M. Wiprud

Crooked

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Crooked Summary

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Brian M. Wiprud’s 2006 mystery novel Crooked is a madcap, fast-paced, seriocomic novel about a seedy hustler hired to find a missing painting and a missing person. The novel is a spinoff from Wiprud’s earlier series featuring the taxidermy-collector detective Garth Carson; the investigator at the heart of Crooked is Garth’s black-sheep brother. Readers praise Wiprud for his witty dialog, for the way he manages to keep several complex narrative threads from getting tangled up, and for his surprising plot twists.

Fast-talking New York dandy Nicholas Palihnic has been in his share of scrapes, much to the dismay of his brother Garth and Garth’s girlfriend, Angie. However, recently, the dapper and knowing Nicholas has parlayed his familiarity with every nook and cranny of New York City into a position as an insurance investigator who is not above using his conman skills to solve his cases. Luckily for Nicholas, his innate drive to skim off the top can be satisfied by side deals made during his investigations.

When the novel opens, Newcastle Insurance has just hired Nicholas to find a stolen painting by an artist named Moolman—Trampoline Nude, 1972, an artwork featuring neither a nude nor a trampoline. As he begins to dig for the painting’s whereabouts, several clues seem to point to Beatrice Belarus, a ruthless Manhattan art dealer well known for her love of money and her willingness to dispose of anyone who gets in her way. However, before he can really connect Beatrice to the crime, Nicholas receives a mysterious phone call from the painting’s ostensible thief. The man wants to return the art to its proper owner and invites Nicholas to his apartment to pick it up. When Nicholas arrives, he finds that the thief who called him has been murdered, and the painting has been stolen yet again. The police arrive and promptly arrest Nicholas for both crimes.

While Nicholas is in jail, a high-powered lawyer, whom he didn’t call, shows up at the station and gets all the charges dropped. It turns out that Nicholas’s real rescuer is Nicasia Grieg, an old flame who has since become a friend—and the head of the Manhattan investigative unit of Trident Mutual Insurance. Nicasia has bailed Nicholas out of jail so that he can help her solve a mystery of her own. The love of her life, thief and art collector Barney Swires, was supposedly killed near Costa Rica by pirates; the only part of his crocodile-eaten body that could be recovered is a very mangled foot. Unable to leave her job to investigate what Barney was doing in Costa Rica, Nicasia hopes Nicholas will go in her stead. The matter is pressing because Nicasia’s gut is telling her that Barney is actually still alive.

Nicasia turns out to be right—Barney is indeed very much alive, having staged his Costa Rican demise in order to lay low in Hoboken. With the help of Maureen McNary, owner of Park Slope Investigations, Nicholas discovers that Barney needs to be out of sight because he has been hired to participate in a complex scheme that is connected with Beatrice Belarus, who is in deep trouble because of a large cash-flow problem.

The mastermind of this caper is yet another insurance investigator, Drummond Yager, who works for Newcastle Warranty. Drummond has spent his career traveling to far-flung places in the Amazon rain forest and Africa, retrieving art objects for his employer, but now it is clear that his job is about to be made redundant. Drummond asks Barney for assistance. Using his sixth sense about missing or hidden objects, Barney figures out the exact site where the Bunker Hill, a ship laden with gold bullion, sank in the 1850s—it’s a spot near an unofficial island in New York Harbor. In order to lay claim to this historic and lucrative find, Barney hires some local hockey league thugs, the Pazzo brothers, to organize an unauthorized dig of the area.

The novel ends with a climactic and exciting finale, filled with double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses, which destroy any sense of loyalty or allegiance between the players. It turns out, however, that Barney’s ultimate goal all along was to get out from under Drummond’s thumb and reunite with Nicasia—he loves her just as much as she loves him. In the end, good triumphs over evil, most of the mischief-makers are punished, and true love wins the day.