Friday, August 21, 2009

Right and Wrong

One of the perks of using LibraryThing is the Early Reviewers promotion. Each month they offer you a chance to receive a newly published book prior to general release. There are many requests for these books, so you don't always get one, but occasionally you do. So each month I look over the list and pick books I think might interest me. I try to avoid books about plucky young mothers, vampires, sci fi, and divorced older women finding love in exotic locales. But I'm a sucker for cop stories. So when I saw the book Rizzo's War, a first novel by Lou Manfredo, who worked for twenty-five years in the Brooklyn criminal justice system, I went for it.

Because it was a first novel, I assumed the book would not be very well publicized, but I was definitely wrong about that. The first page blurb trumpets a Major Marketing Campaign with a first printing of 100,000 copies. What's more, the book contains a Promotional Sampler CD read by Bobby Cannavale (loved him in “The Station Agent”).

So, is Lou Manfredo the next Richard Price?
Well, not exactly. Not many crime writers can match Price's ear for dialogue and his gritty descriptions of the cops and perps in the urban landscape. I doubt that Price, when describing detectives reworking older cases, would have said they were “clearing them slowly like stout, mature trees in a dark, foreboding forestry”. Ouch. But Mancuso does some things well. He certainly know his Bensonhurst geography. And he knows police work.

The plot is familiar – veteran detective Joe Rizzo is paired with ambitious, idealistic rookie detective Mike McQueen, who respects Rizzo but isn't sure he trusts him. Joe's mantra is: “There's no wrong. There's no right. There just is”. As they work a politically sensitive case involving the disappearance of a powerful councilman's daughter, they are led down a twisted path that takes them from biker gang hangouts to church rectories. And in the end (surprise!) the young rookie learns the wisdom of Joe's mantra.

Although the prose was sometimes awkward, I enjoyed the authenticity of the characters, and the cases they worked, the compromises they made, even the restaurants they ate in, all rang true. I admire that Manfredo tried to do more than just tell a detective story; he attempted to deal with the moral ambiguities that his characters faced.

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