Friday, August 1, 2014

Review of Grind Joint by Dana King (Stark House, 2013)

A small mill town to the north of Pittsburgh, Penns River is on a slow slide towards permanent recession and urban decay.  Daniel Hecker, an ambitious businessman, has convinced the city council that a grind joint casino will create new jobs and attract visitors that will help revive the local economy.  One week from opening and the body of a local drug dealer is found dumped at the new casino’s doors.  The killing has the hallmarks of a professional hit by local mob boss, Mike ‘The Hook’ Mannarino, but there is no firm evidence to link him to the crime.  Hecker and his head of security, Daniel Rollison, a former spook, want the case closed as soon as possible and they don’t mind greasing the wheels to get the result desired.  However, Detectives Ben ‘Doc’ Dougherty and Willie Grabek are smarter than many small-town cops, serving in Penns River for personal rather than career reasons.  Under pressure from an acting chief of police who wants the job fulltime, they work their own angles, sensing that there is much more at stake than solving the murder of a low-level drug pusher.

Grind Joint is a tale of a town in decline, local politics, personal rivalries, turf battles, inter-agency rivalry, family relations, and a cop determined to try and uphold law and order in the face of greed, betrayal, and rising crime and poverty.  King packs an awful lot into an excellent story, with multiple, intersecting plotlines, and he hits all the right buttons -- excellent characterisation, strong sense of place, good contextualisation, engaging plot, and tight, expressive prose.  There are a fair few characters in Grind Joint, but King has a way of quickly presenting their essence and is particularly good at capturing their interactions and the nuances of their relationships.  They are not black and white one-dimensional figures, but have depth and resonance.  In particular, Detective Ben ‘Doc’ Dougherty is an engaging, thoughtful presence.  Moreover, King firmly places the reader in Penns River, a former industrial town that has a declining economy and is struggling to find a new path.  The plot is cleverly worked, placing in tension the aspirations of a powerful businessman, the machinations of local government and policing, the ambitions of organised crime, and the thin blue line of an honest cop, a couple of his colleagues and his family.  King works that tension to great effect, but sticks firmly to social realism rather than veering off into a thriller with a capital T.  And despite the themes of corruption and violence, there’s compassion running throughout the narrative, embodied in Dougherty and his family.  If I were a movie producer I’d be looking to buy the rights.  A very fine tale that is told very well.  Highly recommended.


seana graham said...

I read this that not long ago too, and heartily concur. You are right--someone should be buying the movie rights.

Anonymous-9 said...

My purchase has been long overdue. This review pushed me over the edge and I just purchased it for Kindle. Thanks Rob!

Rob Kitchin said...

I think you'll like it Elaine. And your comment has reminded me that I need to get hold of Bite Harder!