Hurt Me Some More

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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!

 

Book Lovers’ Spring Training

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Those of us in the freezing Midwest anxiously await when baseball players report for spring training because it signals a thaw, and intimates hot summer days quaffing cold beer and cheering when a player cranks one out of the ballpark. Likewise, when Mystery Writers of America announces the 2017 nominees for the annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards, it signals a spring of sorts: a fresh batch of books for the lover of mystery novels, multiple categories from which to choose, and enough titles to be relished all summer while quaffing a cold beer and cheering when a writer hits the proverbial home run.

This year I will read and review 11 books in two categories:

Best Novel:

  1. The Ex by Alafair Burke
  2. Where it Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman
  3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  4. What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin
  5. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Best Original Paperback:

  1. Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott
  2. Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts
  3. The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
  4. Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty
  5. A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum
  6. Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Each novel will receive a ranking on a scale of one to ten after its review, and I will predict each winner in the above-named categories. MWA announces the winners on April 27th. My writing buddy, Karen Burgess, is already several books ahead of me with her Literary Lunchbox blog reviews of the Edgars. In her annual attempt at the same feat, Karen is more ambitious than I am (and a devotee of Evelyn Wood speed reading, I suspect), reading and reviewing an additional category, Best First Novel, for a total of 17 books. Sometimes we agree in our estimations, sometimes we arrive at completely opposite opinions regarding the same book. Either way, we both love reading and writing, and enjoy a great friendship as a result. We hope our friendly competition provides you with entertaining reviews and new writers to investigate.