Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 29, 2021


 Tower by Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman (2009)

Take two of today's best writers of crime fiction, blend well, and the result is a jackhammer of a book that pounds at you relentlessly as the pages spin by.

Nick and Todd were best friends since childhood, growing up on the toughest streets in Brooklyn.  Nick's father was a Mick,  an ex-cop turned security guard.  Violence was second nature to him and he took out his frustrations on Nick and his mother.  Todd's father was a distant, emotionless figure cowed by his bullying wife.  From a practical point of view, both were practically orphans, growing up hating their parents.  so they found each other.

Nick was hard-wired for rage and violence.  He would attack any one instantly for the slightest reason.  Todd was a bit better, less apt to do violence, more clear-headed and with his anger and rage lying below the surface.  Todd's Uncle Ira was a minor cog in an up and coming crime organization run by a man named Boyle.  Ira introduced Todd to Boyle's outfit an Todd in turn brought Nick into Boyle's world and the world of Boyle's psychotic assistant, the stone cold Griffin.

Boyle sends the two friends out on dangerous assignments, drawing them deeper and deeper into the criminal web.  Nick falls in love with Shannon, a nightclub singer and single mother of a child with Down syndrome.  Todd also falls in love and moves to Philadelphia, returning after a few months, saying that she had left him.  But when Todd came back he had a harder edge to him.  Boyle then lends Todd out to a Boston mobster who needed someone with Todd's hard edge.  When Todd returns, he is even harder than when he went.  It was as if someone had ripped put his soul.

Nick and Todd are sent to rob a rich man's apartment while the man was away, but the owner suddenly appeared in the middle of the robbery.  Without thinking, Todd shot the owner twice in the face.  They dragged the body to a closet and finished the robbery.  Boyle then sent the two to pay a visit to a shop owner who had refused to pay protection.  The owner gives them some lip and Todd leaps over the counter and cuts his throat.  Todd later told Nick that he had merely cut an artery and not the jugular; the shopkeeper would survive and would think twice about not paying in the future.

Nick begins to get worried about his friend.  Todd's cold-blooded rage has surpassed Nick's own rage.  Then Boyle tells Nick that he has to kill Todd because Todd is a cop.


It turns out that Todd is a cop, admitting freely to Nick recruited in Philadelphia to bring down Boyle.  Todd tells Nick that he has to choose a side -- him or Boyle, and that he will protect Nick.  Eventually Boyle sends Griffin to kill Nick but Nick manages to stab Griffin in the stomach.  He drops the barely living Griffin into the harbor,  Todd sends Nick to a safe house in Tennessee.

The story of Todd going to Philadelphia was a ruse.  He had no girlfriend but was assigned to a pretty U.S. marshal who pretended to be one for his cover.  The marshal plays coy and keeps Todd at a distance but, after finding out that her husband had been killed on duty, she and Todd make love.  The next morning she is gone and Todd is told to go back to New York and wait for orders to report to Boston.  Todd is deeply in love with Leeza, the marshal, but knows he will never see her again.

The Boston mobster Todd has been loaned out to is Rudi, a man even more dangerous than Griffin.  Todd plays his part as a badass to the hilt.  He hooks up with a Red Sox fan (gack!) named Kathleen, whom he likes but does not love.  The love is reserved for his long lost Leeza.  Word comes back to Rudi that Todd is an undercover cop.  He has Kathleen kidnapped and tortured to lure Todd out to a lonely house.  One of Rudi's flunkies, Finney, ot the drop on Todd, taking his two guns.  On the basement floor was the body of one of Rudi's men who had been a snitch for the police.  Tied to a chair, naked, her body covered in cigarette burn, held by wire restraints that cut into her flesh, and with a vise clamped to her head was Kathleen.  Finney had missed the gun that Todd had stuck into the back of his pants.  Just as Finney was about to blow Todd away with a shotgun, Todd fired, killing Finney, but the shotgun went off anyway as Finney fell.  The blast hit Kathleen, killing her.

Todd later kills Rudi.  He dismembers him and feeds his body pats to animals at the zoo.

When things get to hot for Todd with Boyle, he is sent to a safe house in Milwaukee until he nad Nick (still in Tennessee) can testify against Boyle.

Although I should have been, I was unprepared for the shattering climax that Bruen and Coleman lay out, bringing the story to a fitting and tragic end.

This punch to the guts novel is presented in two parts -- first, from Nick's point of vie;, then, from Todd's.  Each has the ring of truth, the touch of despair, and the incinderiary pacing that both authors are noted for.

Ken Bruen, with his Irishman's gift with words, is best-known for his award-winning Jack Taylor novels, his Brant series, and for the Max and Angela series with Jason Starr.  Reed Farrel Coleman is the prize-winning author of the popular Moe Prager series, as well as the Dylan Klein, Gus Murphy, and Gulliver Dowd novels; he also wrote six books continuing the late Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series.  Pure literary talent gallops through their books.

Tower won the 2010 Macavity Award for Best Novel and was a finalist for the 2010 Anthony Award for Best Paperback.

One minor detail that struck my fancy.  While in Boston, Todd finds a mystery bookstore in Cambridge.  "It was on the ground floor of a red clapboard house and the only stuff they stocked were mystery and detective novels."  There, behind the counter "was a big earth momma with a friendly face.  She wore glasses, let her hair straggle, but had a presence that was hard to explain."  No names were given but those who knew the late Kate Mattes and her Kate's Mystery Books may recognize the description.  On a personal note, I still miss Kate and her kindness and generosity.

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