What You Break

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What You Break, Reed Farrel ColemanWritten by Reed Farrel Coleman — The latest crime novel by Reed Farrel Coleman features his retired Suffolk County cop John Augustus (Gus) Murphy, first introduced in last year’s Where It Hurts. Coleman knows his Long Island environment so well that his books carry a gritty realism and his characters live real doggedly unglamourous lives. The author’s interest is not in the rich residents of the Hamptons and shore areas for which Long Island is known, but in the everyday people who constitute most of the the 8 million inhabitants.

Murphy is the security detail and after-hours van driver for the Paragon Hotel, located near MacArthur airport, and its night spot, the Full Flaps Lounge. His girlfriend Magdalena calls it a third-class hotel. “Second-class,” he corrects her.

He likes the job because it isn’t demanding and doesn’t require any emotional investment. In other words, he can stay on auto-pilot, remaining as he has been most of the time since the sudden death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr. The pain of losing his son and all the consequent chaos in his personal life has not gone away and never will, but he’s managing it better now. The first-person narrative lets you know how close to the surface these tragedies are, and they make Murphy a bit less careful about his own safety than he perhaps ought to be.

Two separate catastrophes are looming on Murphy’s horizon. His old friend and confidant, ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, introduces him to wealthy Micah Spears. Spears looks like trouble, but Kilkenny vouches for him. The older man wants Murphy to look into his granddaughter Linh Trang’s brutal murder. Although the perpetrator – a member of the violent Asesinos (Assassins) gang – is in jail awaiting trial, the gang-banger isn’t talking, and what Spears wants to know is ‘why?’

As a favour to Father Bill, and because Spears dangles the prospect of a foundation in his dead son’s name, Murphy agrees to look into it, to the extent he can. He will likely get some cooperation from past colleagues at the Suffolk County Police Department, but a stone wall from others, based on past history. He took down some dirty cops and their friends and protégés won’t be quick to forget it. He occasionally stretches the truth of his current relationship to the department when approaching Linh Trang’s friends and work colleagues but, hey, that’s the kind of get-it-done guy he is.

The second difficulty begins when Murphy picks up a dodgy hotel guest at the airport. With his cop’s eyes, he spots this guest as potential trouble, someone on the run. When they arrive at the hotel, the man exchanges a discreet greeting with Murphy’s Russian friend, the night bellman Slava. Slava won’t speak about his past, indicating it is too shameful, but his connection to the mysterious guest piques Murphy’s curiosity. The next night, he sees Slava pick up the visitor near the hotel and tails them all the way into Coney Island, where they talk to a third man on his front porch. Their car has barely turned the corner of the street before a van approaches, too slowly, and the man on the porch is the victim of an execution-style hit.

Murphy’s poking the beast with inquiries into Linh Trang’s past and Slava’s strange encounter puts both him and possibly even Magdalena in jeopardy from some pretty rough and very determined characters, from Russian mercenaries to the Asesinos themselves. The plot moves quickly as the circle of people involved in both cases widens. Ultimately, Gus deftly brings these two separate investigations together in a hair-raising conclusion.

Award-winning author Coleman also writes poetry so it’s no surprise he’s been called the ‘noir poet laureate’ out of respect for his ability to paint compelling scenes and circumstances, as well as a complex psychological portrait. If you like the non-stop action thrillers of Nick Petrie and Lee Child that nevertheless have some intellectual weight, this is a book to pick up and enjoy.

You can read our interview with the author here.

Putnam Publishing Group

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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