The March 2004 Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to Boston author Linda Barnes for her excellent new novel Deep Pockets. Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle plies her trade in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fresh from her exploits in 2002's The Big Dig (referring to the seemingly endless subway construction project that has paralyzed downtown Boston for years), the zaftig (6'1") Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing the blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor. It seems that the professor, a married man, has been carrying on with one of his students. The affair had about run its course when the girl turned up dead, burned so badly in a boathouse fire that she could be identified only by dental records. The prof is saddened, naturally, but in a larger sense relieved. Then the first blackmail note arrives, attached to one of several love letters that passed between the academician and his paramour. That would be bad enough, in the grand scheme of things, but it gets worse. The blackmailer is killed in a hit-and-run accident, run over by the professor's car. In quick succession, probable cause is established, an alibi is called into question and the professor is arrested. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover some shred of evidence to support this. Fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series will enjoy the works of Linda Barnes; Carlotta and Stephanie are twin daughters of different parents. Carlotta is the more serious of the two, less quirky and eclectic, but similarly insightful, particularly about the seamier side of life. Lifelike characters, great sense of location and page-turning suspense are among Barnes' many strengths as a writer. (P.
S. Don't look at the last page; there is a cute surprise in store!)