Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review of The Saints of New York by R.J. Ellory (Orion, 2010)

Frank Parrish is a police detective living with his own demons – his failed marriage and strained relations with his children, his perilous position at work, the death of his police partner, and the legacy of his corrupt father, a legendary cop and one of the original so-called ‘saints of New York’. Under investigation by Internal Affairs he has to attend daily sessions with a psychotherapist whilst also running his workload of cases. Fresh onto the pile is the death of Danny Lange, a small time heroin dealer and user. Danny is no great loss, but when Parrish arrives at Lange’s apartment he finds his younger sister dead. Investigating the case, Parrish’s gut instincts are telling him that she is not the only victim. Routing through old cold case files cements his suspicions. Given the circumstantial evidence, rather than appraising his boss, Parrish sets out on a solo run to find what he believes is a serial killer. All the time he attends his therapy sessions. Whilst he doesn’t appreciate his daily interaction with the therapist, the discussions are nonetheless opening up feelings and emotions that he’s long kept tightly boxed up. The case and the therapy are leading Parrish on a personal journey of discovery and redemption, but his chosen path and methods of investigation is unlikely to endear his colleagues and Internal Affairs to his cause.

This is the second Ellory book I’ve read. The other – A Quiet Belief in Angels – I found a rather extraordinary and emotionally exhausting read. The Saints of New York feels somewhat of a lesser book all round, but then it had a lot to live up to. The story is still a bit of an emotional ride as it tracks Parrish’s fragile state of mind and psychological transformation and the unfortunate lives of young girls being grabbed for snuff movies, but it doesn’t quite plumb the depths of the A Quiet Belief in Angels. And given the subject matter I’m not going to say it was an enjoyable read. It was certainly engaging in parts, but the more the book progressed the more ambivalent I became. The story felt stretched out and from a long way it out it was clear as to how the narrative would unfold – this is after all a story of a fall from grace and redemption. Parrish is the archetypal solo, me-against-the-world, drinks to forget cop, who breaks every rule and pisses all his colleagues and family off, and constantly teeters on the edge of being drummed out of the force, all in the name of justice. There is no denying, however, the quality of the writing. Ellory can certainly string sentences together and produce a multi-layered read. The start is as gripping as they come. For those who like a psychological inflected police procedural, The Saints of New York will be a welcome tonic.

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