Excitement attended my cracking open the first novel in the next category–Best Novel–nominated for an Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America: Reed Farrel Coleman’s Where it Hurts. I’m a recent convert to Coleman’s fan club after plowing through half of his Moe Prager series (the other half are stacked up on my night table to devour after the Edgars are announced on April 27). I’m hooked. If you’re a noir fan, Coleman’s your man, and Gus Murphy’s tale won’t disappoint.

Gus is a retired Suffolk County (Long Island) cop whose solid marriage blows apart when his twenty-year-old son, John Jr., dies suddenly from a hidden heart defect while playing basketball. Gus leaves the force and winds up driving the airport shuttle van for the Paragon hotel, where he lives in one of the rooms. Two years later, Tommy Delcamino approaches Gus to look into the recent murder of TJ (his son), because the cops are treating him like the two-bit criminal he is and blowing him off. Gus agrees, not because the two men both have dead sons in common, but because his cop sense is piqued by the investigating detectives’ hands-off behavior. And Gus is desperate to get out from under the deep depression he’s been in since his world fell apart. Gus is quickly swept into a morass of conficting stories and discovers a drug deal reaching from the past that impacts directly on the current investigation. No spoiler alerts here because I don’t want to give away any more of the story.

Suffice it to say the reader is in Coleman’s strong, competent hands upon entering Gus Murphy’s world; the place is gritty, the violence graphic, and the plot deep and satisfying. RFC has total control of the story, understands how to ratchet the pacing so the pages keep turning, and delivers justice in the end.

But the most important feature of the novel is Coleman’s rendering of the emotional lives of his characters. Gus is a broken man, grieving without let-up, the pain making him unable to relate to his ex-wife or daughter. His journey to find TJ’s killer (and Tommy D’s killer, too, as it turns out) brings him back to some semblance of normalcy, but the story doesn’t get tied up in a neat bow–his son’s death has changed him permanently. Other characters in the book are equally wrought and memorable: Gus’s ex-wife is sexy, feisty, and as devastated by grief as Gus. There is also a priest who has lost his faith but comforts Gus, and two different women who hook up with Gus but don’t make the hurt magically go away.  My favorite character is Slava, another worker at the Paragon, who assists Gus in surprising ways yet intrigues the reader by hinting at a mysterious background that is never explained (I expect we’ll see him again).

On a scale of one to ten, I rate this novel a 9!

 

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