Clean Hands is a clver thriller.

In the early days of detective fiction, investigators such as Poe’s Auguste Dupin and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes solved cases through sheer deductive brilliance. Later came the tough guys of the hardboiled school of detective fiction (Hammett’s Sam Spade, Chandler’s Philip Marlow, more recently Child’s Jack Reacher). They were all more inclined to use their fists and sometimes a pistol to force a case to its solution. Now, in the era of the Information Revolution, we’re beginning to see the character of the detective updated to master the technology that circumscribes our lives. Patrick Hoffman introduces us to the new species in his clever thriller about corporate espionage, Clean Hands.

An investigator wedded to technology rather than fists and guns

In this diabolically clever novel, Chris Cowley, a junior associate for a corporate law firm in New York, reports that his phone has been stolen. Panic ensues at the firm, since the young lawyer had uploaded extremely sensitive files onto the phone that expose criminal behavior by its largest client.

Clean Hands by Patrick Hoffman (2020) 288 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)

Managing partner Elizabeth Carlyle decides that her in-house chief of security isn’t up to the task of chasing down the phone. Instead she calls in her go-to troubleshooter, Valencia Walker, a former CIA case officer who heads her own investigative firm. Walker speedily swings into action, mobilizing her small staff and a network of contractors and calling in favors from law enforcement and the intelligence community. Using every high-tech trick in the book as well as an abundance of shoe leather, Walker identifies the thief and chases down the path the phone took after he’d lifted it from Chris Cowley’s jacket at Grand Central Station.

A mystery within a mystery within . . . well, another mystery in this clever thriller

Was the thief a random pickpocket? Was Cowley in on the theft? What will happen to those sensitive files after the phone is handed off and then wholesaled? In a traditional spy thriller, answering those questions would likely lead to a predatory foreign power or a big corporation on a path to become even bigger. Not so in Clean Hands. What’s happening won’t become clear even when the Russian mob gets involved. Hoffman at length supplies the answers—but they’re only the beginning. All the pieces fit together in this clever thriller, but just how is a mystery.

This is one book where you absolutely, positively will not understand what’s going on until you reach the end. Do not—I repeat, do not—read the final chapter to learn in advance what happens. You’ll be sorry if you do.

About the author

Patrick Hoffman runs his own private detective agency based in Brooklyn, having spent many years previously as a private investigator and an investigator for the San Francisco pubic defender’s office. Clean Hands is his third novel.

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