Monday, November 1, 2010

Review of Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman (Serpent’s Tail, 2008)

Joe Denton used to be a small town cop in New England; one that committed as many crimes as he solved, wasting his ill-gotten gains on gambling and drugs, destroying his marriage in the process. Now he’s leaving prison early after seriously maiming the local district attorney and leaving him for dead. Only nobody wants him back in their life – not his shamed parents, nor his ex-wife and kids, nor his former crooked colleagues, and especially not Phil Coakley with his disfigured face and resentful daughter. All Joe wants is to get to know the daughters he barely remembers. The trouble is, local wiseguy Manny Vassey is on his deathbed. He thinks that by confessing his sins he can save his own soul and redirect the criminal life of his psychotic son. He will also send Joe back to prison for life, along with half his former colleagues. Sheriff Dan Pleasant gives Joe two options, either he kills Vassey or he takes a bullet. Joe is not keen on either option and desperately tries to find a third way that will allow him to put his life back together before it disintegrates.

Small Crimes is a cracker of a story. Zeltserman writes with a honed intensity that fully immerses the reader in the claustrophobic world of small town America. He vividly portrays the complex social relations of a former cop being released back into his local community – the resentments, the shame, the cold shouldering and petty confrontations, the web of lies and deceits. The characterisation is excellent, with each character rich and multi-layered, and the plotting is first rate (with the possible exception of the Charlotte’s back story which felt contrived - although in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter). The story slow builds to a pressure cooker of an ending that eventually explodes the lid clean off the pot. The ending really is first class. Small Crimes is not a joyous read – it’s difficult to sympathise with most of the characters and it’s intense and emotional – but it’s well worth the ride. A humdinger of a read and definitely one of my books of the year. Order it now!

4 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

Great review. Spot on!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great book but I liked THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD even more.

nigel p bird said...

I agree with the feel of the review, certainly. Having just finished it, I really did enjoy that ending. The voice is strong and the characters equally so. The plot's excellent and it is a page turner. I agree with the comment on Charlotte - just pushes the boundaries of credibility a little there. I sometimes felt that a tight edit would make it even stronger - some repetition of words in paragraphs meant that tiny trims here and there might have helped with smooth it down. Highly recommended, though. High marks from this corner.

Rob Kitchin said...

My word to an empty room when I finsihed was 'wow!' I thought the end of was terrific. So often ends are disappointments.