‘What You Break’ A Book Review
BY BRIAN CURRY
Any fictional crime novel that mentions Spicy’s, the very real, funky fried chicken establishment at the corner of Station Road and Montauk Highway in North Bellport, a few times and has its characters eating their tasty fowl in some of those scenes, has already piqued my literary, if not culinary, interest.
But despite it’s very frequent name-dropping of a lot of real, and some fictional, locations and establishments in Suffolk County, that is not — by a long shot — the biggest draw to read Reed Farrel Coleman’s “What You Break,” the second of his Gus Murphy series.
Our hero Gus Murphy is — you guessed it — a retired Suffolk County Police officer (not even a detective), who has a complicated life both before and after his retirement and more than enough tragedy in his past to feel like a heavy burden.
But for a guy who in the present is an all-around bouncer, house detective and van runner for a Bohemia second-rate hotel off Vets Highway (his words, not mine), he sure has a knack for getting into some major league trouble.
Coleman sets his scenes with tons of Suffolk scenarios, including (but not limited to) the LIRR Ronkonkoma station, LIE, Sunrise Highway, Southern State Parkway, Vets Highway, Commack, Smithtown and Nissequogue.
It’s one thing to drop the names of towns or the roads that dot Suffolk and Long Island, but it is in his descriptions and his understanding of what makes Suffolk tick that your admiration for his observational writing skills increases.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a very good murder-crime-mystery novel very much in the genre of a 2017 version of a Sam Spade-Mike Hammer noir, complete with wiseass comments, numerous gunshots to leave a bunch of bodies and enough broken bones to keep an orthopedic surgeon in business for a year.
His analysis of the whole South Shore-North Shore societal and cultural differences will leave you nodding your head in silent agreement, but his setting of a pivotal scene that takes place in Bellport will leave you just a bit uncomfortable, but in a suddenly-you-understand-fully-what-you’ve-been-driving-through-or-by-since-you-lived-out-here way.
I will say no more than to tell you that the start of the scene mentions South Country Road, the Gateway Playhouse, Browns Lane and Mary Immaculate R.C. Church. The segment ends at Spicy’s. Or as Murphy puts it, “Sometimes, like in Bellport, the dividing line was the railroad track. Most frequently though, it was Montauk Highway, south of Montauk, closer to the water where the haves live, north of Montauk the have-nots.”
But you won’t be reading this novel for its Suffolk name-dropping or even the author’s pointed Long Island social commentary.
As a stand-alone “whodunnit” murder mystery, it works well intertwining two diverse story lines seamlessly, as our hero tries to make sense of the crimes as well as his not-so-smooth personal life.
It should probably come as no surprise that the author lives on Long Island. Coleman has over a dozen books to his name, including taking over the “Jesse Stone” series from the late Robert B. Parker’s estate.
“What You Break” is published by G.P. Putnam & Sons.
Brian Curry is a longtime Long Island Advance columnist and three-time winner of the “Best column of the year” from the New York State Press Association. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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