Father Figured

A son discovers a different side of his dad in this Boston-set thriller.


The Fixer by Joseph Finder

Published by Dutton, 384 pages, $28

Boston writer Joseph Finder’s latest thriller asks: How well do we know our parents, really? Having lost his cushy magazine job, his blond fiancee and his Back Bay apartment, former investigative journalist Rick Hoffman needs a place to crash. So he starts to clean out his stroke-stricken father Lenny’s house, where he discovers a dangerously delicious $3.4 million in cash in a crawl space. Before long, unsavory characters come after his treasure, pursuing, threatening and beating Rick, who slithers, lizardlike, between hotels and rental cars.

Before the fog of illness overtook him 18 years ago, Lenny did his lawyering in the Combat Zone; his clients included a strip joint called Jugs, and his sketchy work involved payoffs, bribes and shakedowns. Rick, reviving his investigative skills, tracks down Dad’s old co-conspirators, including the philosophically sleazy Joel and other guardedly guilty coworkers. Along the way, Rick discovers a hidden side of his father, learning that he had actually been a left-wing lawyer who defended Black Panthers and Weather Underground members in the ’60s, but then drifted depressingly downward to fund those causes. To his further surprise, Rick finds out that Lenny defended him when he’d been kicked out of school for taking a moral stand against a plagiarizing teacher in the student newspaper.

Emboldened, Rick confronts a friend of Lenny’s once involved in illegal Big Dig doings, including a cover-up after the death of a family in the Williams Tunnel. The plot’s surprising turns lead to the heart of Finder’s story, a bracing lesson about understanding and appreciating one’s parent, even if sadly too late.

From page 91: The Combat Zone was Boston’s red-light district, an area of porn houses and hookers, that by the 1990s was mostly gone.

“Your father was a strong believer in the first amendment.”

“I know.” Leonard Hoffman: the Clarence Darrow of pole dancing. “Those are cash businesses. I assume some of those clients preferred to pay him in cash, right?”

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