New, Improved Murder is the second novel published by Ed Gorman, and the first (of five) in his Jack Dwyer private eye series. It was originally published by St. Martin’s Press in hardcover, and it is currently available in a Ramble House Double with Rough Cut. The edition to the right is the 1986 Ballantine paperback.
Jack Dwyer is a former cop who got the acting bug after he was cast in a local public safety commercial. He started acting lessons, quit his job, and applied for his private investigator’s license (in very nearly that order). He also took a security guard job to keep the wolves away. The novel opens with Dwyer on a riverside park murder site. He was called there by a panicked former girlfriend. A girlfriend who left him for another man, and a girlfriend Dwyer isn’t quite over.
The woman is nearly comatose when Dwyer arrives. She is distraught with grief and fear. The man who replaced Dwyer in her life is dead in the grass, and the gun that killed him is in her hand. The police arrive and everything fits neatly into a little package. No real investigation, other than into Jane Branigan—the girlfriend—and the case seems open and shut, but something about it bothers Dwyer. That something may be nothing more than his feelings for Jane, but Dwyer doesn’t think she did it.
New, Improved Murder is a seriously good private eye novel. Jack Dwyer is a likable, compassionate, sometimes self-doubting reluctant good guy, who tends to stand on the outside. He is working class top to bottom, and the world through his eyes is a harsh, troubled place, with just enough hope and romanticism to keep him from the maudlin.