Title: Saints of New York
Trade Paperback: 452 pages
Publication Date: 30/09/2010
Crime fiction has its fair share of maverick cops [invariably men] with battered private lives and tortured souls. Bitter, aggressive, alcoholic, unwilling to play by the rules, acrimoniously divorced and estranged from his children, NYPD Detective Frank Parrish has all the hallmarks stereotypical associated with these fictional cops. But Frank is no parodic genre character. Instead, in the hands of R.J. Ellory, these traits, which the reader has seen a hundred times before, are transformed into something more. For Frank is a wonderfully realised character, whose depths, although not automatically discernible, are gradually brought out over the span of this brilliant novel. This is a man, who in one tiny, beautifully humanising moment, waits with the body of a dead girl so that she won’t be alone before the coroner arrives. He is a character who the reader empathises with – and has sympathy for – despite his glaring inadequacies.
And through the departmental counselling sessions Frank is ordered to attend, the reader is able to get under his skin [and he under theirs]. For, it is revealed, his father was one of the legendary ‘Saints of New York’, who broke the Mafia’s hold over the city in the 1980s. Except that Frank knows it was all a lie – John Parrish was corrupt to the core. And this knowledge of his father’s sins has festered inside Frank over the years, torturing him and in turn destroying everything that he has ever held dear. But for all of his deficiencies, or possibly because of them, Frank is exactly the type of detective needed to police the New York of this novel. A city of darkness and corruption and violence, where you can almost feel the crunch of hypodermic needles under your feet, and the smell of vomit and excrement, fear and hopelessness seem to permeate off the page.
When a heroin addict, Danny Lange, is found shot dead in a dirty alleyway, Frank doesn’t blink. Just another dead junkie. But when Danny’s teenage sister Rebecca is found strangled and abused in Danny’s apartment, with her hair cut and her nails painted, Frank can’t leave the case alone. Soon he discovers a string of other pretty teenage girls murdered in similar circumstances, and his investigation leads him into a seedy underworld of drug addicts, broken homes, pornography and snuff movies. Somewhere a serial killer is lurking, and Frank will break every rule if it means saving the next innocent victim before the killer can strike again.
Rarely do books manage to make me feel truly emotionally involved, but Saints of New York really drew me in and wouldn’t let me go until its final, claustrophobic page. It’s a dark and depressing world that Ellory builds up, but this is nevertheless a compelling read – something you cannot put down. This is gritty and soul-destroying and heartbreaking all at the same time, but with just enough light flecked into it to make you believe that hope is not lost. I can’t really do justice to how brilliant I thought this book was, how taut and tense and well characterised. Sufficeth to say though, Ellory has turned out yet another great novel and is rapidly becoming one of my favourite crime fiction authors. More than highly recommended, this is a must-read.