Putnam/Penguin Random House, $27.00, 353 pages, ISBN 978-0-399-17303-5
If you’re a fan of hard-boiled noir–as I am–you’re gonna love Gus Murphy. He’s the beat-down, used up, cynical, angry, divorced, grieving, cuckolded, bitter and weary ex-cop who’s tough as a ten year old steel-toed boot, but still as altruistic at heart as the first day he pinned on a policeman’s badge. He’s the newly-minted character from the three-time Edgar nominated pen of the man who’s been called the Poet Laureat of noir . . . Reed Farrel Coleman.
Where it Hurts, is the first of what we can only hope will be a long series featuring the sardonic retired policeman whose entire life has been shattered by the untimely death of his son . . . the eldest of his two children . . . and the only boy. As the novel begins, it’s been two years since John Jr. died, and Gus–short for John Agustus–Murphy is still grieving hard. He just hasn’t been able to move on. Now divorced, he’s driving a courtesy van for a seen-better-days motel that guarantees only a few things . . . clean rooms, cheap prices and close proximity to the airport and the Long Island Railroad in Suffolk County, NY. It’s where Gus was a uniformed officer for the Suffolk County Police Department, until the tragedy and his marriage breakup. That’s when Gus put in his papers and retired after twenty-some years of service. Now, he drives a van three nights a week in exchange for tips and a motel room. The rest of the time he fills in as a bouncer at the motel bar and, on occasion he’s the house detective too. It’s not a difficult life, and it allows Gus plenty of time to mourn, feel sorry for himself . . . and drink. His only friends are Felix, a Filipino who runs the front desk, Slava, a mysterious east European man with some very serious, very specialized skills, and Aziza, a young Pakistani woman who works in the coffee shop. It’s the nihilistic, bleak existence of a man who’s given up on life. Then Tommy Delcamino comes to see him. Delcamino’s a low-rent thug, a petty criminal and a dumb one at that, whom Murphy’s arrested many times in the past. He wants to hire Gus to look into his son TJ’s murder. Four months earlier, TJ Delcamino’s body was found, tossed in a trash-strewn vacant lot like so much garbage. He’d been tortured. Died hard. Agonizingly. Tommy D, as he’s known, tells Gus that he gave the Suffolk County Police all the information in a file, but the SCPD is ignoring the case. He wants Murphy to look into it because, “I know I’m a skell, a low-life and a mutt, but TJ deserves justice and you was the most standup cop I ever knew.” The covert comparison to his own dead son enrages Murphy. He kicks Tommy D out in the rudest possible manner. Less than a week later . . . and before he can offer up an apology . . . Delcamino is murdered and Murphy’s been shot; all in the first fifty pages, as Murphy tries to unravel a string of murders that simultaneously take him deeper into the ooze of crime and higher up the chain of command as he fights his way from Long Island’s Gold Coast to its Ghettos, solving a crime no one wants to know about.
Coleman has sprinkled his novel with a cast of characters that embody the noir genre and rival The Maltese Falcon in originality. Gus Murphy himself is the most complex, authentic and fully-developed character to come along in crime-fiction since Harry Bosch and I hope he has just as long a romp through the pages of literature. He’s conceived by a master wordsmith who sets a standard other writers can only hope to achieve.