Written by Mark SaFranko — Transgender people don’t usually get an easy ride in crime fiction. Sometimes they are the psychopaths, as in Silence of the Lambs, and in other cases they are quirky bit-part players who end up dead. That’s not to say there aren’t crime fiction novels with fully-realised transgender characters, but they’re few and far between. The Suicide is one of them.
Detective Brian Vincenti is a Hoboken, New Jersey cop with a failing marriage, a partner who was hounded out of the force after he became Ellen Smith, and a secret in his past that is threatening to derail everything. When he’s called to investigate an apparent suicide – a young woman who fell from the 11th floor of an apartment block – Vincenti is drawn to the case for reasons he can’t explain. Maybe he wants to get away from his apartment, his distant wife, a son who knows more than he lets on, and a passive-aggressive nanny. But there’s something about the paintings in the young woman’s bedroom that he can’t get out of his mind.
As the case starts to eat away at Vincenti, other things in his life start falling apart. His tenuous hold on almost all his relationships comes loose, he starts getting sloppy at work, and he goes off the rails. His anger and frustration are taken out on his cheating wife, and on a former football player who is the main suspect in another case he is investigating – a rape that occurred in the car park of a high-rise apartment building.
The Suicide deals with suicide, rape, domestic violence and police brutality. They’re tough subjects to read about, and it’s particularly tough to feel sympathetic as you do. As Vincenti delves deeper and deeper into the cases he is investigating – the suicide and the rape – he grows certain they are related, and they have a deep affect on him. As his anger takes hold it’s hard to sympathise with him, yet the compelling narrative will drag you along, all the while wondering how low this disgraced cop will go.
Nothing is ever simple. The characters – the broken detective to his ex-partner, his cheating wife and four-year-old son, the accused rapist, the victim – all are fully-drawn, warts-and-all, the kind that you wouldn’t want to meet in real life, but who will make you want to read right through until the end. The power of SaFranko’s story is in these characters. They’re worse than any person you can imagine, they’re destroying themselves and those around them. For some, this factor will make the book, and will compel them to read through to the end. For others it will leave the book unreadable, either too painful or too full of hate to finish. If you like cops gritty and morally questionable, then The Suicide is one for you.
The plot seems predictable at times, but has one or two twists that change everything, and one or two loose ends that will probably never get tied up. The novel is about the scars that we wear from our past: the scar on the Manhattan skyline where the World Trade Centre towers once stood, the scars left by departed family members, by change, by the passage of time. Some of these scars never heal, of course, and it’s fitting that at least one of the three or four crimes committed in the novel is never solved, and the novel ends with a nagging sense that the darkness it conveys is still all around us.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars