The Secret Lives of Dentists

Seventh Street Books: Prometheus. Apr. 2021. 312p. ISBN 9781645060314. pap. $17.95. M
This is the fourth crime thriller by Winter (Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson), but the first to be released in print. (Winter is the pen name of Minneapolis journalist William Swanson.) In 1955, a young woman is found strangled in a Minneapolis suburb. The police soon settle on a culprit, Dr. H. David Rose, a Jewish dentist who’s a pioneer in “sedation dentistry”; he’s known for administering drugs to his mostly women clientele and staying in his office with them for suspiciously long times. Rose admits to police that the dead woman had accused him of impregnating her and had demanded money from him, but he denies killing her. In the eyes of police, Rose’s goose is cooked anyway, perhaps because 1950s Minneapolis is notoriously anti-Semitic—and who’s ever liked a dentist? It’s a grubby world: the police are quick to use their fists to extort answers, everyone lies to everyone, and almost everyone lusts after someone they shouldn’t. The denouement isn’t justice’s triumph but an efficient wrapping-up of loose ends. The patient way Winter builds the case, and his skepticism about the motives of the players involved (including police) benefit from his experience in the hard-boiled newspaper world. The unemotional, even flat, narrative adds to the effect. The book has parallels in a real-life murder case from 1955.
VERDICT This solid procedural will appeal to discerning mystery lovers.
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