By John Wessel

Island Books, 1996 (371 pages) $6.99.

John Wessel's first mystery novel THIS FAR, NO FURTHER introduces us to Harding, an unlicensed P.I. in Chicago. Well, actually at one time, Harding had his license, but after he killed a man and did time in Kentucky's prison system for a long ago case that still haunts him, Harding's license was revoked. Now he does investigations for other P.I.s and attorneys, things off the books, barely making enough to pay the rent for his apartment above a Greek Restaurant.

Harding is doing surveillance of Dr. Rosenberg. Mrs. Rosenberg wants to divorce her husband, but she also wants part of the assets that he has hidden away. Harding has discovered that Dr. Rosenberg has a taste for by-the-hour motels, torrid sex, and heavy S&M with one of his nurses and other players. At the request of Mrs. Rosenberg for Harding to dig a little bit more into her husbands "extracurricular activities" Harding returns to the motel. In the room, he finds blood, acid, and other items that make him think that maybe Dr. Rosenberg's little games went too far. The problem is that Harding doesn't know the identity of the third person in the room. All he has are some audio tapes and grainy pictures of a threesome in throes of passion. With the discovery at the motel, he's not sure if all of the participants were enjoying themselves.

Harding also finds that someone has taken an interest in his case. He's being followed. Has Rosenberg found out that he's being investigated, or are other people interested in Rosenberg's practice and hidden assets?

A few of the plot devices the author uses stretch the willingness to suspend disbelief too far, toward the end of the story. It would have been better if he had not tied the tale of the Rosenbergs back to the early case which caused his fall. Wessell writes in present tense versus past tense, and at first that jarred me. Like most people, I'm accustomed to reading a story from the past tense point of view instead of in present tense. At first this was a nagging bur, jarring the story. However, after the first thirty or so pages, I became accustomed to this style, the story took over, and I ceased to even notice the vehicle, the tenses. Overall, John Wessell's first outing as a mystery novelist is very enjoyable. Hopefully we will see the character of Harding in future novels.

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