I grew up in New York's Westchester County and have lived my adult life in Connecticut's Fairfield County, always in towns that rested on the shores of Long Island Sound. We could always look across the largely placid waters and think of Long Island in two ways - either the tract homes that were built after World War II to house the many families that wanted to move to affordable suburbs, or the fancy, Gatsby-like homes in the Hamptons, where people far more worldly than we lived out their fanciful lives.
Reed Farrel Coleman, the gritty mystery novelist known for his Moe Prager series of novels (and, more recently, for taking up the challenge of succeeding the late Robert B. Parker and writing new Jesse Stone novels), apparently sees Long Island through a different prism. He's out with his second novel about Gus Murphy, a retired Long Island cop who has suffered through enormous personal tragedy and now is living out his days driving a hotel van and doing occasional security work. For Murphy, Long Island is a darker, grimmer place, dominated by secrets and shadows and broken people just trying to survive.
In "What You Break," just out this week, Coleman paints his narrative with deep, somber colors, just as he did in "Where It Hurts," the first in the series. Murphy finds himself involved in two different cases - trying to protect his friend Slava, a fellow hotel employee who finds that the sins of his past have come back to haunt him, and helping a rich man find out why his granddaughter was murdered. In both cases, it is not a matter of determining the facts; rather, he has to determine motive and rationale and levels of guilt. Like the shadows of Long Island's tougher neighborhoods and, to coin a phrase from Raymond Chandler, mean streets, the lines can be indistinct. Murphy's choices are rarely simple, and while the book is a pleasure to read, one cannot help but feel a sense of impending dread.
Reed Farrel Coleman s a wonderful novelist. Not only do I look forward to his new works, but I'm working my way slowly through his backlist. I suggest you do the same.
A guilty admission here. In spite of myself, I've always sort of liked both the book and movie versions of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons." Not that they were either great literature or great cinema, but they were basically pretty good yarns. In both cases, I preferred the book versions. The movies, starring Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and directed by Ron Howard, always suffered a bit from adhering too closely to the books - there was never much surprise or spontaneity (largely, I think, because Howard is a fairly straightforward but mostly uninventive director). But I liked Hanks in the role, I liked the various European locales, and so I went along for the ride and enjoyed the movies for what they were.
When the latest Langdon movie, "Inferno," came out, I decided I wasn't going to read the book, and see if it made any difference. I finally streamed the move this week, and the answer is, not much.
"Inferno" is a lesser story than the other two, and ends up being much ado about nothing. Howard actually brings higher energy to this movie than the others, while Hanks is older now, the mileage on the character sort of works. But I cannot recommend it. "Inferno" is like fast food, and not even the good stuff that you love in spite of yourself. It's more like the kind that you wish you hadn't eaten when the meal is over.
I have a terrific beer to recommend to you this week - the Lead Feather Black Ale, from the Half Acre Beer Company in Illinois. I had some last week with the arancini at Eataly in Chicago, and it was hearty and delicious.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.
- KC's View: