The Story opens with the murder of the new CEO of Entrec Systems, of San Jose.
Now, jump back nine months. Dr. Ben Posner is a respected scientist in his field of energy systems. He and his team at Entrec have developed a high energy lithium battery system that promises to revolutionize the electric automobile. His life takes a turn for the worse when Entrec’s founder dies, leaving the firm to the founder’s son, to be sold to a group of investors. The new CEO, Reineke, makes life pure hell for Posner.
A speech at a prestigious conference—one that Posner makes at Reineke’s insistence—goes terribly wrong, and Posner is humiliated. This, combined with egregious financial problems, impel him into an alcoholic dependency that ultimately costs him his job.
Loyal friends from the company try to stay in touch with Posner, but he becomes increasingly secluded until mounting debt forces the impending foreclosure of his house. A late night drive north to Oakland for a place to buy a drink, results in Posner being mugged, and left to die. He is saved by a group of homeless vagrants who nurse him to health, and introduce him to Steve Arnesen, the director of The Oakland Men’s Shelter.
Thus, in a matter of a few months, Dr. Benjamin Posner goes from a man at the top of his game to a homeless, shattered, alcoholic. The work at the shelter, and his association with Arnesen have a healing affect, and Posner takes steps to return to San Jose, and sort out his life, only to find his house already in foreclosure, the locks changed. He can’t handle this new setback, and goes on a drunk using the little money he has left in his savings.
Simultaneously, Angela Bell, an executive at Entrec, and Arnesen meet while delving into Ben’s whereabouts. They find him after a week’s binge, sprawled on the floor of a train depot’s toilet. Angela volunteers to take him home to dry out. He does. They fall in love, a love that has been latent for years.
Arnesen gives Ben a temporary job at the Oakland Shelter. On a day shortly before the Christmas holidays, Angela telephones Ben to say that Reineke would like to see him. A night of the week after Christmas is agreed upon—at the company’s headquarters. Ben shows up on time to find the man’s car there, but not the man himself. After pounding in vain on the door, he leaves.
Here, the story begins to follow Sergeants Kaut and Vasquez, of the San Jose police, in their investigation of Reineke’s death, which occurred in his office on the night of their scheduled meeting. After running down several leads, they are able to place Ben Posner at the scene from his finger prints on the freshly cleaned glass door. Ben is ultimately arrested.
Angela is frantic, and contacts Ben’s son, Michael, who is a first year U.S Attorney in Baltimore. They are convinced that the police are overlooking evidence that could exonerate Ben, and set out to prove their case. Together with Arnesen and Ben’s protégé, Charles Yang, they follow their only clue: A white van Ben remembers leaving the Entrec’s premises on the night of the murder.
Their efforts pay off to the extent that they are able to narrow down the van’s source to only one or two U-Haul agents in the Oakland area. This information is enough for the police to close in on one of the two perpetrators. These turn out to be the men who mugged Ben that night, months ago, in Oakland. Fearing the police closing in on him, one of the killers murders his unreliable partner, then zeros in on killing Ben, before he can identify him.
Ben, now released from jail, and Angela, thinking the case is solved are cornered by the killer in Ben’s house. A broken liquor bottle—from Ben’s earlier life style—is the ironic instrument that saves them both from death.
The story ends, months later, at a back yard party, celebrating Ben’s, Angela’s and Charles’ successful launching of their new company. The next day, Ben receives an early morning phone call from an industry peer that puts the finishing touch on his total recovery.
Ben Posner is at the top of his scientific career when a change in CEOs drastically affects his lifestyle. Before anyone realizes, Ben is using alcohol to cope with his problems. This downward spiral finds him homeless and eventually rescued by the woman he has secretly loved. Together they begin to patch his life back together, only to face a charge of murder.
The blow came as he was crossing a narrow alley that bisected the block. He never saw the clenched fist with the tattooed fingers emerge from the darkened alley to hit him on the back of the neck.
“Dropped him like a stone,” the long haired one complimented the bearded one, as he dragged Ben back into the alley.
Ben groaned, rolled over onto his hands and knees in an effort to get up. A vicious kick to the ribs dissuaded him of that.
“Get his wallet,” Longhair said.
A tattooed hand with I-R-O-N spelled out on the fingers was already extracting the wallet.
“Get his keys.” Fingers instructed. “Mother fuck!” he hissed. “The shit ass’s got fourteen bucks!” he expertly removed the Wells Fargo debit card, ignoring the Visa card. “Get him up!”
Longhair grabbed Ben, who was throwing up, under the arms and stood him up, face pressed against the bricks of the building.
“Okay, Honolulu, can you hear me?” Fingers asked Ben, who nodded.
Ben’s debit card was pushed in front of his eyes, the tattooed fingers now in view.
Ben hesitated. Fingers nodded to Longhair who brutally bashed Ben’s face into the bricks. Blood spurted from his nose. Pain shot through his left cheek bone.
“I ain’t gonna ask you again, Honolulu,” Fingers instructed.
Ben believed him. Uh... three, three, two... uh, four, one.”
Fingers nodded to Longhair and Ben was released. He fell into a rain puddle, rolling over on his side.
“Three, three, two, four, one,” Fingers repeated. “Better be right, ’cause we come back and whack you if it ain’t.
“Long hair kicked hard at Ben’s exposed stomach, then at his kidneys when Ben doubled over.
Benjamin Posner, PhD in physical chemistry, esteemed scientist and lecturer lost consciousness in a filthy puddle of water in an Oakland alley. He did not hear the engine turn over or his Toyota Camry speed away. It began to rain again.
BRINK by Richard Whitten Barnes is a baffling who-dunit, that had me guessing wrong. BRINK is unique, not easily categorized into any of the traditional mysteries formats. Not an action thriller, Richard Barnes takes his time to flesh out the characters and to make the reader care about them, especially Ben Posner. He is a man whose life is literally falling apart. He has lost his family, and now his job, which he loved, is in conflict and he ends up fired. He turns to alcohol; later is mugged and robbed. Without the kindness of some street bums he might have died. As Ben says, “...sometimes . Bad stuff has to happen, take you to the brink, to bring about the good.” He is lucky to have friends who care. It was clear from the beginning that although he is innocent, he is going to end up accused of the murder. Sure enough just as he starts to put his life back together, he is arrested for murder. Can his son, who is a lawyer, and his friends convince the police of his innocence? With all the perfectly reasonable suspects having alibis, who could have committed the crime? BRINK will hook you into solving the case.
Reviewed by Linda Suzane, www.midnightblood.com