Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Review of Night Life by David C Taylor (2015, Forge)

New York, 1954. Michael Cassidy has returned from the war and become a cop. He has a strong sense of justice and doesn’t mind taking on other corrupt cops, infamously throwing a vice cop beating a prostitute from a third floor window. He’s also independently wealthy through his Broadway producer father, connected via his ‘uncle’ Frank Costello, a mafia boss, and occasionally has second sight, dreaming of events before they happen. On new year’s eve he arrests a thief, but crosses swords with a lawyer from Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunt team, who threatens to make his life hell. The following day he’s assigned to the murder case of Alexander Ingram, a Broadway dancer found dead in his bathroom having been tortured. It seems whoever killed Ingram was after something specific. The FBI want Cassidy and his partner to act on their behalf and as dictated. The pair have no intention of following such orders, however, and try to track down Ingram’s secret and the men he associated with. Those men are murdered in turn and Cassidy is being placed under pressure from the CIA, FBI, the mafia, and another shadowy group . In the meanwhile, McCarthy’s lawyer has decided to target Cassidy’s father for Un-American activities.

Night Life is the first book in the Michael Cassidy series set in 1950s New York. Told in a noir-style, the story has two interwoven threads. The first concerns a murder centring on a blackmail case involving photos of a very senior figure that many organisations would like to get their hands on – FBI, CIA, mafia, and communists. The second relates to a McCarthy witch-hunt against Cassidy’s father, a Broadway producer and Russian immigrant with a murky past. Cassidy has to solve the former to resolve the latter, but it’s far from straightforward when there are so many actors wanting to get their hands on the blackmailer’s damaging snaps and he’s finally found and fallen for the woman of his dreams. Taylor does a good job of introducing a new character and fleshing out his personality and backstory while keeping the tale moving along, and making sure a fairly complex plot is clear to follow. There’s a strong sense of place and time, some good contextual historicisation with respect to McCarthy’s investigations and trials, and the characterisation is well done, including the use of some real-life people from the time. The result is an absorbing and entertaining read.

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