Tag Archives: St. Martin’s Minotaur
The Wolves of Fairmount Park: A Crime Novel by Dennis Tafoya (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)
“Somebody out there has turned a gun on two kids. Whoever did it might be locked up now, and they might not. If they weren’t locked up, then they were on the street and not far away. It wasn’t six degrees out here, separating the guilty from the innocent, the living from the dead. It was two degrees.”
This would have made for a great two-hour made for TV movie – a decade or two or more ago – when people felt they still had the time to watch such things. Two outstanding males of high school age are shot (and one is killed) in front of a drug house in Philadelphia, a killing which has shocked the community and the entire city. The old guard police chief wants the crime solved by yesterday, so he turns to his most on-the-make young detective; a kid with a proven track record (the department’s “boy wonder”), and the best of instincts.
But there are two other individuals who have their own reasons for beating the detective at his own game. One is the police officer father of the surviving high school students, who feels guilty over his shaming of a son who he viewed as less than masculine. Then there’s the officer’s troubled and drug-abusing half-brother who sees this as his chance for redemption within the family.
As these protagonists engage in a race to solve the crime in a dangerous environment, things quickly become far more dangerous. Control of the drug trade in this community already changed hands once in the recent past, and now there’s a full-fledged war to see which adult gang will control the multi-million dollar trade in the future. This is a war fought with automatic weapons and snipers; a war in which friends betray friends. The winners will be able to buy anything they want in life, the losers will be dead.
“The city was a box between the two rivers, a couple of miles up and down. Chances were he really did already know the shooters. And that they knew him.”
Our fourth major character is the city of Philadelphia, Philly, which is anything but inspiring or glamorous. This is the tough and downtrodden city seen in the film Invincible, in which most folks are out of work and one’s leisure time is spent in dive bars and strip clubs. The only job training program available is run by the drug dealers who own “the corners”, and it’s a program that is far from being sanctioned by the federal government.
“He thought about how everyone thought they had the right to do whatever they did. Everything, no matter what.”
Author Dennis Tafoya does not easily or readily give up information to the reader, which in this context is a good thing. The reader will be almost two-thirds of the way through the story before learning the simple reason the two young men were standing in front of a drug house on a dangerous night. Tafoya makes you work for it, to become invested in his tough and gritty story. It is an investment that pays off extremely well in the end.
Julie Compton has produced an engaging and unique mystery in this, her second novel. Such is the good news. The bad is that in reading Rescuing Olivia I was reminded of The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond which shared the same two stylistic drawbacks.
I loved Richmond’s novel No One You Know which had a near perfect start-to-finish flow. But Fog was, in Richmond’s own judgment, “somewhat drawn out.” There was also the distracting fact that a story very comfortably set in northern California was diverted in part to Nicaragua. As I wrote earlier, “This seemed quite unnecessary.”
Rescuing Olivia is a good story but harder to read than Compton’s legal thriller Tell No Lies. And while Olivia is just 16 pages longer than Lies, it felt drawn out. It felt quite a bit longer. Further, this story set in Florida (the author’s home state) is arbitrarily moved to Africa in what becomes essentially a second book. I could not understand the need for the device. It seemed, once again, unnecessary.
Story wise, Olivia presents a movie-like plot. Anders Erickson is an everyday guy whose girlfriend Olivia Mayfield is quite rich. Olivia’s picked out an initially reluctant Anders to be her boyfriend rather than vice-versa.
“Anders had known all along… that he was but a blip on the radar screen of her life.”
Anders has never had an accident riding his motorcycle until he and Olivia are run off the road by a large black Mercedes sedan. Olivia winds up in the hospital in critical condition and Anders is led to believe that she’s died from her injuries; that is, until he finds out that she’s been taken away. The responsible parties may include her controlling father and her former fiancée. Anders vows to find Olivia before she’s further harmed or killed.
Yes, this is a great set-up, but the execution is just not as smooth as it was in Lies. There never seemed to be a loose thread in Lies, but in Olivia a few patches are visible. Part of this is due to character development. Anders is real and sympathetic. Olivia is presented with the right amount of mysteriousness for a leading lady. It’s the other characters that seem to be less than plausible, from Anders’ best friend Lenny, to his former girlfriend Shel. Then there’s the African native Makena, an employee of the Mayfield family, who raised Olivia from birth. From first appearance, the reader is given the impression that Makena is a critical character yet the story could have been told without her.
But don’t let me give you the wrong overall impression. Once you begin reading Rescuing Olivia, you will want to keep reading to see how the mystery of Olivia’s disappearance is resolved. The same is true of the Anders-Olivia love story.
The criticisms here result from the natural difficulty Compton encountered in fashioning a follow-up to the almost flawless Tell No Lies. I’d like to think that she might present us with another taut legal thriller in the next year or so. A Scott Turow-like courtroom drama would be just fine.
Actually, forget about the comparisons to Turow or Grisham… I have the feeling that Compton’s got the stuff to deliver her own blockbuster in the not-too-distant future.
A review copy was provided by Minotaur Books.
There’s a lot of buzz going around about Julie Compton’s new novel Rescuing Olivia, which will be released next month. So we decided to go back and read Compton’s first book, Tell No Lies, published in mid-2008. Lies is an excellent, excellent criminal justice system and family drama set in St. Louis. The main character, Jack Hilliard, is an assistant district attorney who’s happily married; his wife is an adjunct college professor and they have two boys. Life appears to be good for the family except that Hilliard is unfulfilled.
Suddenly everything changes at once for Jack… Earl, the District Attorney for the City of St. Louis decides to give up his office to earn some pre-retirement riches at a prominent private law firm. Although Jack is designated by Earl to be his successor, Jack struggles with the decision to run for the office. Doing so will mean that Jack will need to hide or obfuscate his personal anti-death penalty views at a time when the local public is seeking blood.
Both Jack and his understanding wife Claire realize that moving from being an ADA to being the DA will turn their lives upside down… But this is a small tremor compared to the coming earthquake that will change the ground under Jack and Claire – leaving them virtually foundation-less. For years Jack has had a huge crush (“Can you be in love with two women at the same time?”) on the exotic Jenny Dodson, a mixed-blood civil practice attorney who turns men’s heads whenever she moves. Jenny, in return, loves Jack but isn’t sure she wants to participate in destroying his happy marriage and contented family.
Against his better interests, Jack decides to involve Jenny as an officer in his campaign for DA which means he’ll regularly be in her company. Jack initially believes that he can control his feelings for Jenny, but then comes to see that she’s far more than a distraction. Jack, in fact, may love her to destruction. Jack eventually becomes the DA who may be Jenny’s only hope when she’s charged with the murder of one of her clients. But she had an alibi the night of the murder – one that involves Jack. Will Jack save his marriage or Jenny?
This fantastic set-up only gets better and better and the reader will rush to get through the book, even at the cost of some sleep. There never seems to be a wrong note in the story, and the fact that some major public figures have recently made a mess of their lives only adds credibility to this morality tale. As with Tiger Woods, Jack comes to find that his life “is on fire and on the evening news.” (Thank you, Paul Simon.)
Jack Hilliard is a person well liked and loved, but he’s often told that his flaw is that he feels that he must get what he wants in life. This is a story about the high price to be paid for getting what you want. The devil must be paid.
Compton is a former federal agency trial attorney and the language of the criminal justice professionals in Lies comes off as true in tone. This is more of a gritty Prince of the City than homogenized Law and Order. Tell No Lies was such an impressive début for Compton that I am quite eager to get to Rescuing Olivia.
A review copy was provided by the author.