What makes us us? What drives us? What guides our reactions to spontaneous decisions in the heat of the moment when there isn't time for thought? Three very tough questions, which there are no real answers, but they are answers in which Roger Ellory tries to discover in his latest book, the Saints of New York.
Having written reviews of his previous two novels, and even earlier about my first Ellory discovery, the wonderful "Quiet Belief in Angels", it appears to have become somewhat of an annual tradition!
We are introduced to Ellory's latest protagonist, homicide detective Frank Parrish amidst a literal blood bath as he attempts to save the life of a girl who has been attacked by her boyfriend, but things, as always don't go according to plan. Parrish, down on his luck, it seems things aren't going his way. As the novel unfolds and we are introduced to the main story line we learn more about him, more importantly, his past and the ghost of his father, New York police legend, John Parrish, one of the original "Saints of New York".
What people don't know, but what Frank does, is the truth. He knows the real John Parrish and the seemingly sinister motivation behind his actions. Once again, as is the case with all of Ellory's books, we learn the back story at the same time that the main narrative races forward at a relentless pace. This time told in gripping dialogue with Parrish's counsellor, who was assigned to him after Internal Affairs called him to book for a transgression too many.
All the while, a homicide investigation is going on, a drug dealer turns up dead, but so too does his sister. She's not the only one, there are more and we follow Frank's journey to unravel the pieces and follow the clues. Detective work doesn't strike me as a pleasant occupation, you see the lowest, and the lowest of the low. Frank has seen it all, but this really gets under his skin.
As a reader, it's not pleasant. Ellory digs into some dark places and you are reminded that this is real, it's happening on a day by day basis. Fictitious accounts of non-fictional events. Some readers may not like it, nothing here is glamorised or dressed up. Vermin are vermin and as soon as we acknowledge their existence the sooner we can do something about it.
In context, you take the sum of this novels parts and you'd be thinking it reads as slightly clichéd, particularly as a "crime thriller". You take a New York homicide detective, hard drinker, broken marriage, married to the job, a typical "who-dunnit", but as with all of his previous works Ellory takes a token formulae and adds some of his magical fairy dust and takes what has been written time and time again into another direction.
I can't think of many other crime thrillers that would have left me thinking about the three answers to the three questions I asked earlier, but once again, my whole enjoyment of these books that continue to be released on a yearly basis is that they transcend the genre. Gritty, realistic dialogue, characters that are believable and fully dimensional, the crime aspect is merely a distraction as we try and understand the person and what drives them.
Although, ultimately another wonderful piece of literature by Ellory, my main reason for it's success was what makes reading a book so special, the right one always seems to come at the right time. It may just be me, maybe it's entirely coincidental, but certain events in my own life and having to learn for myself about "where we come from" and the "meaning of life", it seems that I'm being thrown different answers of varying importance about this topic wherever I turn!
I'll always hold A Quiet Belief in Angels, and A Quiet Vendetta in such high regard, so there is a little bit of pressure from me onto the author to surpass that, I'm not expecting a Magnum Opus once every twelve months and would be incredibly rude (and impossible) of me to request that! Each of his readers will have their own personal favourites, and they are what his future work will be measured by. But he has a fan here, and if one more fan comes as a result of these annual reviews then all the better for it, as it will hopefully mean more books for me to read!