Publication: Seamus and Nunzio Productions, LLC on 17 July 2012
What if Paul Farrington, a veteran fixer for a shady corporation, found himself targeted for elimination just as he was trying to finance his daughter’s Ivy League education? How far would he go to provide for his family and keep them safe?
What if detectives Frank Mallory and Alberto “Gunner” Gennaro were forced to play catch up with a killer who may or may not be a demon and who leaves trails of Dantesque murders, each one occurring further south in Manhattan and deeper into his version of The Inferno?
How could these situations be connected? How long can the detectives stick to strict police procedural facts when confronted with increasingly bizarre events, especially once they begin invading Mallory’s private life? And how does he find a balance between his rejection of the case’s alleged demonic elements and his strong desire to believe his dying father’s visions of long dead relatives beckoning him to heaven?
When must a detective reconsider what exists outside man’s law? These are the dominant concerns of City of Woe, a novel combining Ryan’s personal experiences, knowledge of the family business (the NYPD), an understanding of literary classics and a love for classic rock and roll. Running 327 double-spaced manuscript pages, readers have noted obvious references to Dante’s The Inferno, subtle nods to Joyce’s Dubliners and Ulysses and the influences of Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosley, and Richard Price.
I‘m ashamed it’s taken me so long to read this book, but now that I have, I think it was the extraordinary book blurb above that put me off. I’m not a great fan of long book blurbs that tell you the whole plot before you have opened a page, and there’s something quite disconcerting about a set of cheery references to other books that encompass Dante, James Joyce and Walter Mosley.
Setting my personal prejudices aside, however, City of Woe is an easy and perfectly decent read. Detectives Mallory and Gunner hunt for a vicious but very clever serial killer on the streets of NYC.
Frank Mallory is a second generation cop of Irish descent; a family man with a couple of kids he adores. His partner Al Gennaro is overweight, single but has the gift of the gab when it comes to the ladies; he can sweet talk his way into their lives as easily as warm butter on a hot loaf.
These two are our protagonists, though most of the action focuses on Frank- as the killer, not content with simply violently brutalising his many victims, sets out to taunt the cops and to bring his special brand of fear into the Mallorys’ home.
The first murder seems random enough, a young man found tied in brutally disfigured in the entrance to a subway. But before long a second body is found and the index cards found on the second body match those on the first and the cops know they have a dangerous serial killer to contend with.
Decent police procedure gets them their first break but Ryan cleverly misdirects the reader and leads us into darker territory. Is mental illness at play here and can that explain the many references on the index cards to Dante’s Inferno – or is this, as a local priest claims, an instance of a dybbuk – a ghost or disturbed soul that possesses the body of a living being and directs that being’s actions?
The interplay between the religious and the secular explanations is well done and makes for an interesting debate, more so because Mallory’s father is seriously ill in hospital and Mallory has to confront his lapsed Catholic beliefs head on in a personal way.
Ryan’s writing flows well and his characterisation is good. I liked the plot, but felt that it fell away somewhat in the second half and should have had a stronger finish.
Nevertheless, it was a perfectly good read and I’m glad I finally got to it.
About Christopher Ryan
Christopher Ryan spent eight years as an award-winning Bronx crime and politics reporter, winning awards as Best News columnist/NYS Newspaper Association, Journalist of the Year/Children Are Precious, and a DeWitt Clinton Masonic Award for Community Service, among others.
His latest work, Simple Rebellion is Christopher Ryan’s eleventh work of fiction. He earned his MA and Rutgers University’s English Award for Highest Distinction in Literary Studies for his “master’s thesis” — his first novel, City of Woe, The debut novel earned theBookcast.com’s first-ever “Book of Exceptional quality” and “Best New Voice (fiction) honors from the Independent Book Publishers Association. City of Woe features detectives Mallory and Gunner, who have also been featured in its sequel City of Pain, and a prequel collection of short stories, City of Sin.
He is currently planning City of Love, which will complete his modern urban re-interpreting of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. He has also written a YA novel, Genius High, and is working on its follow-up, Perfect. Additionally, he is producing a line of illustrated children’s detective books, The Ferguson Files. He has written several adventures staring Alex Simmons’ African-American soldier-of-fortune Blackjack, including stories in the anthology Shooters, the novellas Ransom for a Dead King, Dark End of the Rainbow, and Driven.
Chris spent eight years as an award-winning Bronx crime and politics reporter, earning accolades as Best News Columnist (NYS Newspaper Association), Journalist of the Year (Children Are Precious) and being presented the DeWitt Clinton Masonic Award for Community Service, among other distinctions. He earned additional honors for playwriting (Bronx Council on the Arts) and screenwriting (a T.W. Wharton Award, and nods as a top 10 percent then top 100 Nicholl’s Fellowship finalist.
He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and twin sons.