Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tower

Tower, the gritty crime fiction collaboration of authors Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman, is a special little book. Seldom has so much violence, irony, black humor, and sheer atmosphere been packed into only 172 pages. As a longtime fan of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor novels, I would expect no less from his half of the book, but I was happy to discover that Reed Farrel Coleman's portion of the novel is the perfect compliment to Bruen's segment.

This is the tale of two boyhood friends with everything in common, including distant fathers, weak mothers, and a willingness to do the dirty work for some of Brooklyn's lowest-level wiseguys. Nick is the son of a failed Irish cop now relegated to rent-a-cop duties at the World Trade Center's north tower. Todd, impressed with the fearless rage Nick can summon up when he has to, admits to having had somewhat of a boy-crush on Nick when they were kids. He knows that Nick hates his physically abusive father but, as he sees it, at least Nick's father cares enough about him to hit him.

As young adults, the two manage to get some work from Boyle, a small-timer with a fake Irish brogue who considers himself to be more Irish than the hard-cases who still live in the old country. What makes Boyle particularly dangerous (and successful) is Griffin, the psychopathic enforcer Doyle keeps at his side to make sure the money keeps flowing in his direction.

When things go bad for the boys, one of them gets an offer from the NYC cops and the Feds he can't refuse: save himself, and maybe his buddy, by informing on his crime connections while working undercover as a NYC police detective. Things get interesting when that buddy is ordered to assassinate the new cop in order to prove his worth and loyalty to Boyle and Griffin.

Tower is filled with the raw violence of beatings, shootings, torture and rape. But, believe it or not, this is a love story. Both Nick and Todd manage to find the loves of their lives while simply trying to stay alive long enough to see their next birthdays. And perhaps the most impressive aspect of Tower is how, amidst all the blood and violence, Bruen and Coleman make the reader care about those relationships and how they might end. Despite its over-the-top characters, male and female alike, those who enjoy noir fiction are going to remember Tower for a long time to come. My only complaint with the book (and you knew I had to have one) is with its rather unsurprising and unsatisfying ending. It's not that I saw the book headed to this particular ending before I reached its final few pages but, when I did see where it was headed, I found myself really hoping that I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was not.

Rated at: 4.5 (half a point off for the ending)

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