Monday, December 08, 2014

New Boston Crime Fiction Voice: THIRD RAIL, Rory Flynn

Some books are just too good to keep to yourself -- even while reading. THIRD RAIL is one of those. By the end of the first chapter, I was regularly interrupting my reading to comment to my husband, who is a long-time noir fan: "This one's for you." And by the third chapter, I was double checking the author's credits, because THIRD RAIL, featuring disgraced Boston cop Eddy Harkness, is way too good to be a debut crime novel.

And here's the fruit of my investigation: Rory Flynn is a pen name for Stona Fitch, erstwhile journalist and author of four dark and thought-provoking novels, spiked with dark humor and richly detailed characters and plots. In fact, Fitch was on his way into crime fiction before this change of name and announcement of the Eddy Harkness series. But I have to agree with the change: Rory Flynn actually "sounds" like the Boston he's summoning.

Boston might as well be one of the main characters in THIRD RAIL. Even though Eddy Harkness has been exiled from the downtown narcotics unit where he'd become a legend for his sense of where the goods are hidden (maybe even a "sixth sense"), and is supposed to be tending parking meters in a suburb, he can't resist following up on a fatal accident that swiftly pulls him into investigating distribution of a new "designer" drug ... and into the political dangers of the Boston crime world at the same time.

The fact that he's lost his service weapon (gun) and is crawling through Beantown's underworld armed with only a plastic toy gun isn't helping. Neither is his latest girlfriend, the notorious Thalia Havoc, barmaid extraordinaire in a shady watering hole.

Thalia's lack of sympathy for Eddy's loss of his gun is classic:
Thalia pulls the sheet up to cover her breasts. "Don't get all freaked out."

"This is serious, Thalia."

"Then go find it. Didn't you tell me you were really good at finding things?"
But it's the paragraphs right after this exchange that show how Flynn nails Boston over and over, in this place-bound narrative that "couldn't happen anywhere else":
Harkness retraces the straight route to the gas station with a kicking donkey on its sign, scanning the sidewalk and finding only cigarette butts, burger wrappers, beer bottles, receipts, losing scratch cards, crushed vodka nips, and a couple of mismatched gloves. He walks past tow lots with prowling Dobermans, a food bank with a line stretching around the block, and the low, hulking South Bay House of Correction, where Narco-Intel sent dozens of dealers. Harkness wonders if any of them are watching out the tiny square windows as he dives down and over, hands on cold cobblestones, to look beneath cars.

The Southeast Expressway roars with morning traffic and his head throbs like a slowcore band warming up. He's had rough nights out before, but nothing like this -- a lost night giving way to a cold reckoning.
Eddy Harkness is definitely the victim of this scam, and if his missing gun becomes known, he won't even be holding onto the parking meter route. Haunted by a death that he failed to prevent -- one that seems to have re-instituted the Curse of the Bambino on the Boston Red Sox, who haven't won a game since it happened -- Harkness is everyone's pick for kicking.

But he's stubborn. And his life hurts too much for him to give in to more abuse. And a career as a narcotics cop means he's got both experience and intelligence, if he can line them up in time and in the right way to beat this case and pull leverage against the criminals trying to frame him. Hey, it's much harder to do it solo than when you're part of a team. Eddy's got to try, anyway.

Occasional flickers of an Irish sort of sixth sense (haunting? really??) flit through but they don't distract from this dark, intense, and well-written investigation. I'm really, really glad to see all the traditional signs that this is the start of a series.

Best recommendation: If you like dark, and Boston, and torment balanced with smarts, pick up a copy of THIRD RAIL very soon, before it slips into later printings. The first printing's always best for collecting. Then line up for the next book. I listened to Rory Flynn at a recent crime fiction conference; he knows what he's doing, and this is likely to be a memorable series.

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