Book Review: Omerta by Larry Darter

Omerta by Larry Darter is the first book in a brand new police procedural series set in the City of Angels featuring homicide Detective Howard Drew, a protagonist who will feel familiar to any fans of Harry Bosch.

Thriller writer Tessa Wegert says “crime fiction writers are like journalists.” She zeroed in on a word—authenticity—that fits my thoughts on Larry Darter’s Omerta to a tee. Former journalist Wegert examines Michael Connelly’s oeuvre but fans of Omerta will undoubtedly see similarities:

Regardless of characters, setting, or storyline, a single word always comes to mind when I read a Michael Connelly novel: authenticity. The details of how Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller, and Renée Ballard investigate crimes, identify suspects, and interact with their colleagues always withstand scrutiny.

Darter’s debut police procedural follows the career of Howard “Howie” Drew, a Los Angeles detective. A “just the facts, ma’am” tone is the perfect showcase for Drew’s modus operandi. Former soldier and beat cop, Drew was recently promoted to homicide detective. His partner and mentor, Rudy Ortega, has one foot out the door because retirement beckons, but he still has a lot to impart to “Youngblood,” his nickname for his new partner. For advice on where to eat, who to date (keep it in the cop family, says Rudy), and how to navigate the system, Rudy’s your man.

On Christmas Eve, Howie and Rudy head out to a murder scene on Benedict Canyon. The victim has had her fifteen minutes of fame. A colleague fills them in.

“Rudy, your victim, is Fiona Silverman, the writer, the so-called mafia princess,” Maxwell said.

 

“Mafia princess?” Drew said.

 

“Yes, her father was a big-time mob guy, John ‘Sonny’ Silverman,” Maxwell said. “He was a Gambino crime family underboss. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of John Gotti, Salvatore ‘Sammy the Bull’ Gravano, and Angelo Ruggiero. After her father died, she wrote a best-selling memoir called Mafia Princess: Growing Up in a Mob Family.”

Figuring out a killer is a methodical and painstaking task—hunches are only useful if they can be backed up by rock-solid forensic evidence. Drew and Ortega each have a favorite suspect in mind for Silverman’s murder. For Ortega, it’s Nelson Welch, Fiona’s agent and one of the few people she saw on a regular basis. Drew thinks it’s William Hurst, her “soul mate” and best friend since they met in college at USC. Hurst moved to the New York area after graduation where he became very financially successful. A few years after he married, his wife was murdered, and Hurst was the chief suspect. Fiona was an integral part of the alibi that deflected suspicion from him back when it occurred. The New York police want to reopen the investigation into Valerie Hurst’s death but Fiona’s cousin, Shirley Sutton, tells Drew on the phone that nothing would ever shake Fiona’s story.

“How can you be so certain about that, Ms. Sutton?” Drew said.

 

“Have you ever heard the term omertà, detective?”

 

“I can’t say that I have,” Drew said.

 

“As practiced by the La Cosa Nostra, the Italian-American Mafia, omertà is a code or vow of silence and code of honor.”

The code of omertà is Fiona’s heritage from her family. According to Sutton, “Had Fiona watched Bill kill his wife and dispose of her body, she would never have told the authorities and would never have testified against him had the police arrested him.” But Drew knows since 2001, Fiona’s circumstances have changed—is it possible she was blackmailing her oldest friend? Follow the money is always good advice.

In Omerta, readers find out in fascinating detail what is needed to solve a murder. Ortega and Drew are nothing without their support system, the folks that do autopsies, dust a crime scene for fingerprints, and cops who liaise from other districts. Unfortunately, time runs out for the detectives before they solve Fiona Silverman’s murder—their boss assigns them to another case. But in their spare time, they keep plugging away, determined to bring Fiona’s killer to justice. 

It’s been said that cops run on coffee and doughnuts and both make an appearance in Omerta. Word to the wise—don’t drink the coffee at the precinct. Doughnuts, that’s a different story.

Nearly every day, some thoughtful citizen dropped off a box of doughnuts. Drew supposed it was a small way of letting the cops know there were still people out there who knew and appreciated the men and women who put on a badge every day and tried to do their best. Drew always thought the gesture was so amazing given that it seemed most of those the cops tried to protect and serve didn’t particularly like them and sometimes openly despised them.

Howie and Rudy crisscross Los Angeles daily as they do their job, so they rack up meals at an impressive and comprehensive list of restaurants. It’s better than Trip Advisor. 

We find out a little about Drew’s personal life—he’s haunted by memories of his time in Iraq. He never sleeps through the night. Ortega noticed a certain bleakness about Drew’s demeanor when they were first teamed up. 

He seemed like a competent young detective, but Ortega believed Drew must have seen some awful shit either as a cop or in the military. He was one of those guys who seemed to have a thousand-yard stare even inside an eight-by-eight-foot room. Drew revealed little in the way of emotions behind the dead-eyed look.

His taciturn nature inhibits his ability to get close to Lucy Tomlinson, a female patrol officer he met Christmas Eve, at the Silverman murder scene, and started dating soon after. They banter about music: Drew likes country and western. 

There had been so many cowboy shitkickers in Drew’s old army unit back in Iraq that he had been continually inundated with country-western music. He had hated it at first, but in time it had grown on him. By the end of his second tour, it was all he ever listened to. Maybe he found country-western songs appealing because the lyrics came closer to describing his real-life experiences than any other music did. Tami Neilson, a Canadian-born, New Zealand-based country singer and songwriter, was a recent Drew discovery.

Lucy, his off-and-on girlfriend, prefers Taylor Swift. Is it too soon to wonder if there will ever be a Detective Howard Drew Spotify list like we’ve come to expect from Peter Robinson when he shares the latest Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks crime con? Here’s hoping Omerta is the first of a string of Howard Drew police procedurals so we can find out more about the reserved Detective Drew. I look forward to it.  

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