Rock ‘n’ roll journalist Mick Sever is back in another highly entertaining, page-turning novel of suspense by Don Bruns: St. Barts Breakdown. Sever is sent to St. Bart by his editor at the Chicago Tribune, Jeff Bloomfield, to interview legendary music producer Danny Murtz. Murtz rarely grants interviews, but since A&E is making a documentary of his life on the island and he is producing a new band, the Indoorfins, he agrees to the interview. Persistent rumors swirl that Murtz has been overindulging in drugs, alcohol, and women; several women reputed to have been Danny’s flings have gone missing. Sever’s editor tells him that if he can tie Murtz to the disappearances, he’ll be in for a sizable bonus. Mick agrees to the offer.
Bloomfield tells Sever that they have received anonymous correspondence that nonetheless seems to be credible from someone with proof that foul play was involved in the disappearances of at least two women Murtz has been associated with in the last seven years. Armed with the correspondence and the offer of being put up in style “in a four-star hotel on the beach,” Mick heads to the paradise of St. Bart’s. As he’s trying to flag down a taxi before he leaves, the short male driver of a white Five Star series BMW aims the car at him and almost mows him down. At the time, Sever chalks the near-accident up to someone who lost control for a moment. Later, on the island, Mick finds reasons to wonder if someone might have been making a preemptive attempt to kill him to stop any investigation before it has even started.
The point of view shifts between some of the chapters from Mick’s to Danny Murtz’s. Murtz is surrounded by an entourage of people who shield him from the prying eyes of reporters and try to keep his excesses under control, taking care of any potential problems that might arise because of Murtz’s wild excesses. To get to Murtz, you have to first get past his two bodyguards, his cold-as-ice secretary, and his lawyer, Harvey Schwartz. Schwartz has been paid millions over the years to pay people off, silence rumors, and dispose of whatever annoying dead bodies happen to show up whenever Murtz gets into a coke and alcohol-induced rage.
The “breakdown” of the title refers to the one Murtz undergoes during the course of the novel as he becomes more and more paranoid and suspicious of everyone around him. He wonders who, if anyone, he can really trust, who sent the correspondence to the Tribune, and who has been surreptitiously leaving threatening notes in his office. He thinks his lawyer may be behind everything, that he knows too much, and is trying to drive him crazy. His secretary, Nancy, might also be the one behind it, or one or both of his bodyguards, or a woman he has flown in to the island, the lovely Michelle Kirkendal, who he wants to have sex with. He’s also suspicious of Sever and almost cancels the interview, having his thugs make a couple more attempts made on Sever’s life to nip any interview attempt in the bud.
St. Barts has a cavalier attitude to crime that occurs on the island. Since they claim that there have never been any murders on the island nor any major crimes to speak of, the gendarmes concoct explanations for anything that might seem to be a murder by labeling it an “accident.” For instance, when Sever’s rental car explodes, they claim that it was due to a “faulty engine.” As Jordan Clark, a friend Mick makes on the island, tells him:
“Mick, it’s all about money. This island attracts very, very rich celebrities.
They bring in drugs. One bust, and it f----s up the tourist dollar. No more
celebrities, no more tourists. I can’t be any clearer. And you, my friend, were
the victim of a faulty rental car. It’s as simple as that. That’s the official word.”
Murtz finds it increasingly difficult to keep his past and present crimes and murders a secret. Michelle, whom he has knocked out and locked up in his guest house, is in reality a Chicago Missing Persons cop checking out the disappearances of some of Murtz’s victims. Schwartz, who has cleaned up after Danny in the past, is killed, though the official version is that he must have fallen, bumped his head, got knocked unconscious, and drowned in Murtz’s swimming pool. A woman whom Murtz presumes to be dead, probably by his own hands in an alcohol and drug-influenced daze, spies on him, breaks into his house, and tries to steal Schwartz’s computer full of incriminating evidence. Of course, Sever also wants to uncover Murtz’s secrets and expose them to the public light of the press.
St. Barts Breakdown’s short, terse, suspenseful chapters are a hallmark of Don Bruns’ writing style. Bruns is one of my favorite authors of the mystery/thriller genre, with novels like Stuff to Die For (the first in a different but very well-written series of mysteries featuring the comically likable Hardy Boy-type duo of James Lessor and Skip Moore) and Bahama Burnout, another Mick Sever book. Bahama Burnout is a little more action-packed than St. Barts Breakdown, though the latter features plenty of action, too. It may seem to be less so because so much of the novel focuses on Danny Murtz’s
deterioration. I highly recommend St. Barts Breakdown to anyone who is already a fan of Don Bruns’ previous novels and to anyone who loves great mystery/thriller novels.