Sawyer Pens PI Barney Moon Thriller

Pam Linn

In his third novel, “Cross Purposes,” author and Malibu resident Thomas B. Sawyer introduces the reader to an entirely new character, the New York private investigator Barney Moon. Cracking wise is his modus operandi and sharing the New Yorker’s disdain for all things Hollywood give Moon plenty to grouse about as he searches for the perpetrator of an arson fraud. 

What starts out to be a quick hunt for the alleged arsonist’s fingerprint among the ashes, saving the insurance company turns into a convoluted plot involving Russian gangsters, cops of dubious character, techies trying to unscramble cyber fraud and religious fanatics. 

Moon, like most New Yorkers, has never learned to operate an automobile. His driver is called back to NYC, creating an opening for Melodie, a teen-aged car thief, to take over Moon’s transportation. Having grown up in L.A., she knows all the things the P.I. doesn’t about the sprawling left-coast city. She’s hard to like at first, a skanky street kid of questionable character, but she grows on you. And Moon develops a sincere, if conflicted, affection for her. 

The quick fingerprint search turns into a longer attempt to unravel two murders, in at least one of which Moon is a suspect, and more. Sawyer, a veteran TV writer, plots this thriller to perfection. Years as head writer and script editor of the long-running “Murder She Wrote” TV series, starring Angela Lansbury, have prepared Sawyer to deal with plot deception in an organized and witty style. The dialogue is authentic, the characters marvelously developed and the story line engrossing. 

His first two novels, based on historic events, “The Sixteenth Man” and “No Place to Run,” read like scripts and capture readers’ attention from page one. “Cross Purposes” is more character driven and infinitely funnier although the plot unfolds more slowly, revealing its secrets like the peeling of an onion. Sawyer wrote a nonfiction book titled “Plots Unlimited” that actually shows writers how to do this. 

Don’t begin the last half dozen chapters unless you can finish them in one sitting. Sleep won’t come easy until you uncover the intricate plot twists and the miscreants who maneuver them. 

Along the way a Malibu mansion is incinerated, cars are totaled, Moon is beaten up by the Russian hit man, the rogue cop is reprimanded by his boss and a scheme by evangelical zealots is uncovered, all with Moon’s dogged investigation. 

But while Moon can’t wait to return to New York, the insurance company that employs him finds ways to extend his stay in La-La Land. Melodie is secretly delighted but doesn’t give away much. 

I couldn’t help thinking that their final scene at LAX was a set up for the next Barney Moon thriller to come from Sawyer’s pen. I can’t wait. 

“Cross Purposes” by Thomas B. Sawyer, Suspense Publishing, 228 pp, Paperback and Digital