Set in Boston, American author Jeremiah Healy’s murder mystery novel Act of God
(1993) follows the recurring character John Cuddy, a private investigator who specializes in dark and complicated murder cases. Cuddy investigates the brutal murder of Abe Rivkind, who is discovered beaten to death by his wife, Pearl. The investigation quickly progresses down a rabbit hole that exposes the dark underbelly of crime and betrayal in Boston. The novel, though typical of its genre, has been praised for capturing the anxieties of urban life at the turn of the 1990s.
At the beginning of the novel, Cuddy is mourning the death of his wife, Beth, who suffered through a long battle with cancer. He is approached by Pearl Rivkind, who begs him to solve her husband’s murder. A kind-hearted woman, Pearl was horrified to discover Abe bludgeoned to death in the office of the furniture store where he worked. Abe was a Holocaust survivor, and there is suspicion that anti-Semitism might have motivated the killer. Another interested person offers to hire Cuddy in conjunction with Pearl: William Proft, the brother of Abe’s secretary, Darbra who went missing the on day of Abe’s murder.
Pearl harbors a suspicion that Abe might have been having an affair that turned sour. Before his death, she had asked him if he was seeing someone else, and he had claimed not to be. Pearl fears that Darbra’s disappearance means that she was the woman with whom Abe had an affair. Cuddy suspects that this might be the case, but soon develops an alternative hypothesis—that Darbra and William were involved in a scheme to reap insurance benefits from their mother’s death. After the benefits went entirely to Darbra, William might have killed his sister to claim the wealth for himself. This suspicion brings Cuddy to the earlier death of Darbra and William’s mother. Frequently, Cuddy returns to his wife’s grave, finding that conversing with his image of her helps him make sense of new developments in his life and career. Simultaneously, he starts a new relationship with a woman named Nancy.
Cuddy eventually learns to see past the conflicting stories his two employers yearn for him to prove, and into the details of the case. He eventually proves that Darbra and William had indeed killed their mother for an insurance payout. Noticing that William has no hope for Darbra’s return home, Cuddy suspects William hoped to cover his tracks by hiring a private investigator. Eventually, with Cuddy’s help, the police discover Darbra’s body. At the end of the novel, Cuddy gets an admission out of William that he killed Darbra after a dispute over the payout from the insurance agreement. With this admission, he brings William to justice, making strides toward ending the case. Reflecting that life goes on despite the sorrows and injustices of the world, he has renewed hope that he can move on from the loss of his wife.