Sometimes in between the P&R series, the post-apocalyptic dystopias, and the Steam-Punk meta-mash-ups, a straight up thriller slips through. If I am lucky, a straight up-thriller with a touch of noir will show up. If I am really lucky a novel like Night Life by David C. Taylor finds its way into my happy hands. This is one of those rare books that is the very epitome of big and brawling, is soaked to the bone with hard-boiled attitude, yet is as smart as a whip at the same time.
Night Life is Michael Cassidy’s story, from beginning to end. A detective for the NYPD, he is an enigmatic jazz-loving existential loner who seems wed to the time, 1953. Just to give you an example, he throws a vice cop out a three-story window for roughing up a hooker in the first few pages. The real story takes off a bit later, when Cassidy and his partner Orso chase down a robbery suspect. In the process of cuffing the perp they bounce him like a pinball off of the car of an annoyed Roy Cohn, who was the hired gun and hatchet man for Senator Joe McCarthy. After that he finds some clues that lead him to a convoluted case of murder and blackmail involving the CIA and FBI. At the same time, a vengeful Cohn decides to make Mike’s life hell by denouncing his father and rail-roading him all the way back to Russia.
Needless to say, as an excellent noir, there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and, of course, some great dames. The best is a semi-bohemian welder named Dylan, who is as well-crafted as Michael, and is also to die for. The prose is sharp, a bit flashy, but tonally perfect. Mr. Taylor hit all the right atmospheric touches, and the background and locals seem just right, without drawing too much attention to themselves.
Michael takes a fair amount of beatings of course, and is double-crossed and stabbed in the back. He drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney and even his connections have connections, but it all goes down like a bourbon on the rocks. The sideline characters are all good, and the sub-plots blend into the main storyline with a smoothness that seems effortless, but is really a display of bravura storytelling by Mr. Taylor. By the time the end-game starts the whole story is half-tragic, and half Kafka-esque farce. It’s a tricky balance, but the author pulls it off, giving us a slap-bang ending where there are no real winners or losers, but only survivors. Even they are bloody, but unbowed. A knock-out.
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