Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Brighton by Michael Harvey

I used to be crazy mad for murder mysteries, the grittier the better. I considered myself an expert on them. What happened? I guess that once I started reviewing so-called literary fiction for "Library Journal," at least ten years ago now, I must have unwittingly upped my game in terms of the quality and type of characters that I spend time with. But that's a shame because the other day I realized how much I miss a good page-turner.

I turned to a novel that was handed to me when I was at BEA in Chicago. Virginia Stanley from Harper Collins caught my attention with, "You like Dennis Lehane? You'll love this book." I do, and I did.

Product Details
Most reviewers are comparing "Brighton," to Lehane's "Mystic River." That's because the premise of each is that a crime committed when the characters were youngsters will one day surface to haunt their adult lives. The past is never really past, is it? Another similarity is that Harvey writes as atmospherically about the Brighton section of Boston as Lehane did about Dorchester, about the Irish, alcohol, race, and the mob.
In 1975 Kevin Pearce is a fifteen-year-old boy on his way up and out. His mother Katie had been a smart one too, but marriage to an abuser, three kids, and a lack of hope, clipped her wings. She, and her mother who lives upstairs, place all their faith in Kevin. He'll be the one to go to college. The girls, Colleen and Bridget, were just second thoughts and they knew it.
Kevin's Gram, Mary Burke, was a force to be reckoned with. She ran a local cab company from an office next door to the house and she didn't take any crap from anyone. She always told Kevin, if anything goes down that doesn't look right, you can trust Bobby Scales with your life. The day Mary Burke was knifed to death in her home, Kevin had to do just that.
Kevin left town that day and didn't look back. Twenty-six years later, his life is charmed. A journalist, he lands a plum job with the "Boston Globe." He's involved romantically with a brainy attorney from the DA's office, and he's just gotten a phone call advising him that he's won a Pulitzer Prize for a piece of investigative journalism that brought to light the jailing and subsequent prison death of an innocent man.
It's only a short drive, yet a million miles away to Brighton. Kevin never goes back. But who does he really have to share his good news with if not Bobby? I found myself yelling at him through the pages,
"No, don't go back. They'll suck you in. You can never go home again."
But then, if he didn't, there wouldn't be a mystery, would there? And it's a doozy. I usually pride myself on guessing the outcome well before the denouement. Not this time. Harvey is expert at throwing out enough red herrings to keep you guessing until the very end. He also excels at painting a picture of true evil and I believe that's what's most frightening about this book. There is no reasoning with this evil, no exculpatory justification for its existence. Dennis Lehane's worst characters have some redeeming qualities but I defy you to find one here. This is a truly gripping thriller and I just happen to have a copy to share. Comment if you'd like it.

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