“Dirt” by Stuart Woods

Woods, Stuart. Dirt (1996)  
HarperCollins, 272 pages, $24.00 hardcover 
ISBN 0 06 017666 0

When fax machines all over the country begin receiving exposés about ruthless New York gossip columnist Amanda Dart, she hires Stone Barrington to find out who’s giving her a dose of her own medicine. Barrington is a former policeman, now an attorney and sometimes private investigator, who first appeared in Stuart Woods’s novel New York Dead.

I went back and read this earlier novel after reading Dead in the Water, in which Barrington also appears, and was greatly disappointed. Dirt falls well below the level of all of Woods’s novels that I’ve read so far. I’ve come to expect intriguing plots and, usually, at least interesting characters from Stuart Woods. But Dirt has the thinnest plot I’ve seen in a long time, just the bare minimum of a story line necessary to hang his characters on.

And what disappointing characters they are, all of them. No one in this book, not even our hero Stone Barrington, rises above the level of stereotype. In reading this book it’s easy to imagine an author  enjoying immensely the portrayal of someone like Amanda Dart. And the resolution of all of Amanda’s problems comes in a way that’s particularly fitting, if somewhat melodramatic. But I expect more than stereotypes, even humorous ones, and melodrama from Stuart Woods. I would have stopped reading his books long ago if he weren’t capable of producing work much better than Dirt.

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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