Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman is a gritty, atmospheric novel about the other side of Long Island, far from the wealth of the Hamptons, where real people live—and die. It is nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel.
There’s a lot to be said for not just a bold opening paragraph but one that sums up the main protagonist to such crystal-clear perfection. Listen to the voice of retired Suffolk County cop Gus Murphy:
Some people swallow their grief. Some let it swallow them. I guess there’re about a thousand degrees in between those extremes. Maybe a million. Maybe a million million. Who the fuck knows? Not me. I don’t. I’m just about able to put one foot before the other, to breathe again. But not always, not even most of the time.
Here’s a near-defeated character that wants to rise again, but it’s a long shot at best … it’s like Cornell Woolrich, hardboiled mixed with detective edge. Gus is grieving over the death of his son John Jr., his marriage to Annie is over, and his daughter Kristen is heading torpedo fast to rock bottom—a casualty of not only her brother’s death but her parents’ uncoupling. Gus lives at the Paragon hotel where he works as a house detective (that’s still a thing?) and drives the taxi van three times a week to shuttle people to and from the local airport.
Out of the past, Tommy Delamino comes to Gus for help in finding justice for his late son TJ, who had been killed, set on fire, and discarded in a wooded lot. Tommy had been arrested by Gus on more than one occasion when Gus worked the Second Precinct, but because the detective always treated the man with respect, Tommy turns to the ex-cop for help.
TJ was a ne’er-to-do-well—apparently the apple didn’t fall far from the tree—though the father claims his boy was trying to turn his life around and, regardless, didn’t deserve to die like that. An old police buddy warns Gus to stay away from the case, and before long he realizes the why behind such severity in the cautioning.
Bloodied bits of his skull, brain, hair were splattered all over the stacks of concrete sacks and vats of sealcoating on the shelves at his back. After passing through Tommy, the bullet or bullets had ripped through an eighty-pound bag of concrete mix. The gray powder had leaked out onto the floor and formed a cone-shaped pile behind his body. Staring at the powder, all I could think about was the grains of sands in an hourglass. Tommy D.’s hour had come and gone. Whatever torment he’d been suffering over the murder of his son was over. I didn’t bother checking for a pulse.
Practically everyone involved with the case has something to hide. Standard fare, and Gus—like all good fictional detectives—rattles the cage before it’s over.
The plot is tight, never dull. But the real enjoyment in reading Where It Hurts is Gus Murphy, and that’s a feat for a genre with a saturation of books, television, and movies that have chiseled the clichéd character of cop (or former cop) to an unimaginative nub. Basis goes something like: cop has fallen from grace, he/she was an alcoholic, still recovering, or the cop was too much of a rebel-minded individual who can’t tolerate being confined by the dictates of the police department (here's a link to a list of 200+ fictional detectives if you care to read their resumes).
There’s nothing new under the sun as my mother used to tell me, but Reed Farrell Coleman has done well infusing some much-needed juice into the worn-down detective genre with Gus Murphy.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.