Cover image for Death benefit : a Gray investigative thriller
Death benefit : a Gray investigative thriller
Harper, Philip.
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2000]

Physical Description:
232 pages ; 25 cm
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Straight out of today's headlines, this shocking novel of murder, intrigue, and corruption in the life-insurance industry draws its inspiration from actual Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting.

A jogger falls to her death from a bridge in a Philadelphia park. A teenager dies when his bike collides with a bus. A young woman is found dead in a downtown office building. All the deaths can be explained. None results in the prosecution of a murderer. Friendly, charming insurance man Jim Hartman has devised the perfect crimes.

Hartman's the fellow you meet at the civic club. He has known your family for years, he comes to the house to sell you a policy and to offer solace in a time of trouble. He's also a clever killer.

He picks his victims for their youth and future earning potential. Because they are young, their deaths are worth millions in lawsuits for damages. The government and large corporations pay out huge amounts to grieving families, with Hartman taking a large but secret cut. No one suspects the scheme. No one but George Gray, a disillusioned reporter turned crime-fighting vigilante.

Gray (George Herman Gray, na

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Altruistic ex-reporter George Gray takes on evil insurance agent Jim Hartman in this slick, suspense-filled thriller, the third in the series (after Final Fear), set in Philadelphia. Hartman has concocted a clever scam to cheat trusting people out of their rightful claims: he secretly cancels their insurance policies and pockets their premiums. When years later a loved one dies (often with Hartman's help), he produces phony documentation to prove the victim was never entitled to the insurance coverage in the first place. Gray begins to notice a suspicious pattern in court cases connected to Hartman, but rather than go to the police, he schemes to gain enough evidence to blackmail the con man into returning the stolen money to the wronged families. Gray eventually becomes involved with Rachel Curren, a physically fit young attorney with a troubled pastÄand a link to Hartman. Might she too be guilty of terrible crimes? Harper is good at detailing the insurance fraud and at creating convincing characters. Less than realistic are the life-threatening scrapes Gray blunders into periodically: a confrontation with Hartman in a darkened elevator, a fight with some toughs in a jail holding cell, a chase in an abandoned warehouse where the killer lurks. Cinematic clich‚s aside, the author does furnish an exciting climax, where Gray has to do some fast talking to persuade a corrupt judge that shooting him wouldn't be smart. Agent, Esther Newburg. (July) FYI: Philip Harper is the pseudonym for the writing team of Jonathan Neumann, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, and Stuart Green, a psychologist. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Harper!s latest thriller in the George Gray series reveals nasty life insurance agent Jim Hartman, who steals his clients! premiums, stages their accidental deaths, then convinces their families to file wrongful death suits"and pockets a sizable share of the settlements. Hartman!s scheme seems foolproof until ex-reporter George Gray appears. Gray is looking for answers behind a friend!s denied life insurance claim and starts the investigation with his friend!s agent, Hartman. What results is a quick read that displays inside knowledge of both investigative reporting and the insurance industry. Although part of a series, this novel can stand on its own. For larger fiction collections."Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One His mind raced, as usual, turning information into endless categories and associations. The minty smell of grass. The flat mud and moss of the trees. He looked down and saw dark soil, good for growing. If a man was desperate, he could use the park's resources to make food. Such knowledge was good to have. It would be part of a backup plan, a possible means of escape. Jim Hartman filed it away, along with scores of other backup plans already in place. He was in Fairmount Park, and he kept his eyes on a particular woman who was in the middle of warming up for a workout. People walked by. He imagined what it would take to bring each one down, visualized himself in action. A footsweep and a wrist-edge blow to the throat. That one, done. Move in close, snap the head up sharply into the man's face. That one, done. A tall man, stronger than him. Jab to the eyes, take away the size advantage. Then use a knife kick. Done. In his head, each conflict began and ended, while he crouched, completely still. He stood up and stretched his legs, continuing to watch the young blond woman. He needed to be ready to run with her. In recent weeks, he'd been observing her routine. She was compulsive. She used the simple wooden workout stations along the Valley Green path in the park the way others used machines at the gym. She kept increasing her number of sit-ups. He liked women who worked out so rigorously. He had once made a big play for a woman at a gym after watching her lift for two hours. Getting the date was easy. Making connections was his specialty. He went out with her a few times. He'd liked her enough to let her go, to make nothing out of their relationship that he could use. But today's woman wasn't picked out at random. This was business. He'd known her for ten years, since she was a kid. He'd sold her parents life insurance, helped them with financial and legal matters, all legitimate, matters of trust. He'd watched the girl grow up. She became a twenty-six-year-old assistant trader on Philadelphia's commodities mart, living on her own in Center City. She had grown up enough to be useful. She was so useful that she had to die. He casually approached her. "Mary Cooper?" He sounded a little uncertain, but nice. "Yes?" she said, polite, without invitation. She was pretty enough to be familiar with chance encounters and where they sometimes led. "Mary, you don't remember me? Jim Hartman? I've known your parents for years. Insurance. Remember?" It took her a minute to look at him and to think back through the years. Then recognition came. "Mr. Hartman, wow. I don't think I've ever seen you without a pin-striped suit." He smiled at the compliment, subtle as it was. He was forty-nine, but at six feet, with thick dark hair and blue eyes and a slim build, he looked much younger. His appearance always helped him, but then everything did. "I didn't recognize you either, Mary, not at first. So we're even there." He hesitated, timing it. "You've changed a lot." She rubbed the sweat off her arms with a light-blue towel. "I'm not a kid anymore, I guess," she said. "How're your parents? I've been meaning to visit." "Same as always. They're fine. I see them all the time. But I'm glad I have my own place." He heard the pride. She was still young enough to make having her own place an accomplishment. She was doing well and that was good. It increased her value. He had pulled her credit history and her medical records, by using the form people signed as part of a life insurance application. Forging her signature was risk-free. No one ever checked that kind of form, especially at a doctor's office. He had scanned the papers with relief. She was perfect. Occupation, age, and health were the most important variables juries considered in awards for wrongful death. Mary Cooper was in excellent health. She was likely to live a long, productive life. Her lifelong earnings potential was high. He knew her routine. After sit-ups, she usually ran in the wooded section of the park. She began to stretch. "If you're going running, that's what I was up to also. I could join you, if that's okay." She didn't hesitate. "Sure," she said. There was nothing like a history with people to make things easier, but at this point it didn't really matter what she said. The plan was now in motion. If she'd turned him down and run off alone, he would have followed her, unseen. He glanced around. It was late afternoon. Some people were out walking on the path near the creek but the area wasn't crowded. She led the way. He followed close behind. The jogging path took a steep incline. The woods fifty feet up got dense. They slowly wound upward with the hill. She wasn't a talker. He enjoyed the silent run. She was better adapted than he for running. She handled the changes in terrain like an animal, adjusting her stride, quickening when the way was clear, slowing for rough patches. But he was determined and had no difficulty keeping up. They went through thick brush for a few minutes, then they came to one of the fieldstone bridges sprinkled throughout the park, leftover city quaintness, markers of Philadelphia past. The bridges were mostly in disrepair, mortar and stones held together by weight and proximity, with some places loosened and worn away. He took big strides and caught up to her as she came around the edge of the entry road and stepped onto the bridge's slate. They stopped for a moment, both breathing heavily. He drew his arm back and used the short-stroke side-facing punch of a Chinese boxer, his hip turned neatly into the punch, providing the power. His arm relaxed to a whip, fist loose until the contact with her jaw, then it tightened to a knot to capture the force, to carry through the thrust. He stared intently, without emotion. This was his job. He admired the efficiency of the blow he made. He loved the martial arts. They had always seemed ideal for him -- a way to be violent that relied more on preparation and skill than on size or strength, although he had both. The woman was instantly unconscious. He took her in his arms, her body featherweight and soft. The blood was still flowing fast beneath her skin, pulsing from her workout. Her flesh was pale. The flattened stone squares of the bridge sheltered them from surrounding view. He leaned her body against his, ran his hands through her hair, kissed her lightly on the lips. He held her under the arms, walked her a few feet across the stone road, and placed her in the middle of the bridge. Missing bits of mortar and broken slate left gaps in the bridge's bottom. Through them he saw the soft green of the mossy wood and the slight blue trail of slow-moving water ten feet below. She began to regain consciousness and looked up at him, uncomprehending. He stepped toward her, then turned to the fragmented wall of the bridge. He bent down and felt the muscles of his thighs and knees tighten, his calves taut. He grabbed hold of the edge of an outcropping of stone on the side of the bridge. He pulled in one smooth motion, feeling the dry and weakened mortar yield to his pressure. He uncoiled from his crouch, taking the piece of stone with him. She watched, but was too dazed to move. He stood, tall and straight, the hundred pounds of dead stone weight held up above his head. "What are you -- " she managed to say, her head and shoulders half up off the mortar. He looked down, the slate's shadow shielding her body from the sky, and then he let go. She yelled, but the sound was gone in a second as the stone scythe moved through her. He rolled the big piece of stone off the dead woman, then pushed the body off the edge into the shallow river below. He tore out a few more of the loose stones from the wall and dropped them down. Then he rolled the big stone off the bridge. The trick was not to do too much, to let nature provide. A freak accident in the park, the police were bound to conclude. A woman jogger trips, then falls from the old stone bridge, and she's crushed by a small avalanche of stones falling into the river. He'd checked; there had been accidental deaths on these paths before. He had done the first part of what needed to be done. His associate could go to court and do the rest. Copyright © 2000 Philip Harper. All rights reserved.