Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mean Streets and Highways of Suffolk County, NY

WHERE IT HURTS (A Gus Murphy Novel)
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam Books
January 26, 2016

In general, I am not a regular reader of "noir" crime fiction but when Reed Farrel Coleman publishes a new novel, I sit up and take notice. Called a "hard-boiled poet" by NPR, Coleman is a must-read for me. I have read most of his books and his "Moe Prager" series is a favorite; one that I always recommend to crime fiction fans.

We first meet John Augustus Murphy (Gus) two years after the sudden death of his son, John. His life has fallen apart in those two years: his 20-year police career is over along with his seemingly happy marriage and his daughter seems determined on self-destruction. Gus is living in a low-rent hotel, driving the hotel's courtesy van. He is still so sunk in grief that all his friends have dropped away and the only meetings he has with his ex-wife, Annie, are when she needs him to pull his daughter out of one scrape or another.

Things begin to change when a low-level criminal Gus arrested many times, Tommy DelCamino, shows up at the hotel. Tommy's son, T.J., was tortured to death and dumped in a vacant lot. The Suffolk County Police have no real interest in pursuing the crime. After all, T.J. was just another low-life following in his father's footsteps. Outraged at first that Tommy would use his own tragedy to get him to investigate T.J.'s death, Gus' cop instincts soon kick in. He is warned off the case by friends on the force. The warning is followed by ever-escalating threats and when Tommy is also murdered, Gus is in it to get answers. It seems that the conspiracy surrounding the cover-up goes to the very top of the department.

Where it Hurts is a gritty crime novel, packed with characters that I found unforgettable. The lapsed priest, the small disfigured man whose only real friend in life was Tommy DelCamino, the vicious drug dealer, and above all, Gus' mysterious Russian friend and ally, Slava, seem entirely authentic to me. Also authentic is his portrayal of the grief of losing a child, and what that grief can do to a family. My only quibble is what felt like a rushed tying up of the loose ends. If became obvious who was the perpetrator, if only by the process of elimination. Otherwise, I highly recommend Where it Hurts to crime fiction fans and look forward to the next book in what I hope will be a long-running series.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

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