Sunday, July 9, 2017
Red Hook by Gabriel Cohen
Synopsis From Publisher:
Unlike the other members of the elite Brooklyn South Homicide Task Force, Detective Jack Leightner prefers his murders baffling. He likes to lose himself in tough cases, and he just caught a murder that will consume him like no other: an unidentified body, bound execution style, on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.
Leightner is finishing his first look at the corpse when he discovers a knife wound and loses his lunch. He has seen a thousand dead bodies, but nothing brings back bad memories like death by knife.
The victim was a hardworking Dominican man with a family, a job, and no ties to the underworld. Investigating this murder will Auckland Leightner back into Red Hook, the neighborhood of his youth - now a labyrinth of empty docks and crumbling housing projects. It's a tough case, but not half as hard as going home.
I'm half way convinced that in order to be a fictional homicide detective, you are not allowed to be a well adjusted, happy person. You have to have painful secrets in your past you refuse to talk about. You have to be distant and socially awkward with your family. You have to have no skills in love, and live a stoic life revolving around your career. As a mystery fan, it makes great reading, but I'm always feeling bad for these characters.
I, through a twist of fate, reviewed the second book in this series, The Graving Dock, back in 2011. I fell in love with Jack back then, but for whatever reason it's taken me this long to get the first book reviewed. It was interesting to see how truly damaged Jack is in the beginning, and how far he had come in The Graving Dock. He is carrying a horrible secret about how his younger brother was killed when they were kids. He has a painfully uncomfortable relationship with his grown son. He has a woman he sees, and I mean has sex with, but from what I can tell they don't actually like each other. He is not a happy man, and he's drowning it with alcohol. I think he is a man of his generation.
In Red Hook, the author not only introduced one of my favorite homicide detectives, he proves his skill in creating a world for Jack to shine in. The city of New York, the borough of Brooklyn, and the Red Hook neighborhood are living, visceral characters unto themselves. Jack would not exist if it wasn't for where he lives. This would not be a character that could be shifted to Chicago or St. Louis. The setting runs through Jack's veins, and he would cease to exist otherwise. The author writes in such a way that I thoroughly enjoy as a reader. He brings the location to life. As a reader, you are able to walk the streets with the characters, seeing the landscape through their eyes.
He crafts the mystery the same way. It's tactile and tangible. He allows the reader to experience the horror and pain through Jack. He builds the suspense, all the while instilling the need to solve the case in our gut, just as strongly as it resides in Jack's. It's something I don't experience in a lot of mystery fiction, but when I do it stays with me. Don't get me wrong, I'm always curious to see the outcome of a case, but I rarely feel a need for solve it myself.