Suburban dick

Jon Katz is the closest successor we have to the Raymond Chandler school of writers who take a geographic location and make it their own. And Rochambeau, New Jersey, has a lot in common with Chandler’s City of Angels. Behind their sun-washed streets and settings of normality lie deep, black secrets that cannot stand the light of day. For my money, Katz even hits closer to the nerve, since his detective character, Kit Deleeuw, is a card-carrying member of the bourgeois, and his home the suburbs, those modern ghettos that is home to a large proportion of middle-class white America. There’s nothing to equal reading about the poisonous snakes that live in your own backyard to make you a little more restless at night, a little more aware of how easy to have your carefully built-up insular life shatter like glass.

In “The Fathers’ Club,” the life is that of a father who has left his wife and his children. The parting was as friendly as such partings can get, but when the child support payments stop, his wife asks Kit to find him, simply to make sure he is all right.

It turns out he is not: Kit finds the man shot to death in his office, a possible suicide. The answer to the man’s death lies with the Fathers’ Club, a men’s support group. Beset with troubles of his own — his teen-age son has turned surly and distant — Kit joins the club.

Katz’ four novels have followed in this vein, but this some seems a little thinner in story than the rest. Kit’s ruminations and observations about the suburbs fill the rest of the space, and while they generally on-target, too much of it seems rather self-obsessive, even whiny. While understandable for a man in Kit’s position — a former Wall Street broker brought down by scandal, forced to play Mr. Mom as his wife earns the money to support their middle-class life — over the long haul it can be a little wearing.