Sunday, October 28, 2007

One book and beyond ... Vol. 4

Continuing my personal list - inspired by The Rap Sheet's One Book Project - of crime, mystery and thriller novels that were “most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years.”

Only two people I know have actually read this book – myself and Joe Guglielmelli of the late, lamented Black Orchid Bookshop in New York. And that, folks, is a crime.

MARTIN QUINN was Anthony Lee's first novel and, as far as I know, his only one so far. Published in 2003, it's the story of a tough Irish kid who's adopted - Tom Hagen-style - by a Russian mob family in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. There's a romantic triangle, various whackings, a betrayal and a reckoning when Martin has to decide whether to turn state's evidence and testify against his fellow gangsters. Pretty standard stuff, you might think, like a compact but literate New York crime movie from the likes of James Gray or Sidney Lumet. But what sets MARTIN QUINN apart is the writing. The story is told in a spare but vivid third-person style that's so full of emotion and detail it might as well be first-person. It's finely nuanced, and makes even familiar settings and scenes seem fresh, infused with a vibrant life and energy that almost leap off the page. It hooks right from the opening paragraph:

He thought, again, You're not going to kill him. It was an awakening, the idea. It was like emerging from the woods into a dusk-lit clearing in your head. It was peace coming down.

I first learned of this book when Amazon paired it with my novel, THE BARBED-WIRE KISS, which came out at the same time, as one of its "Better Together" promotions. The connection, I guess, was the boardwalk setting in both novels - Brooklyn in his, the Jersey Shore in mine. I ordered it for that reason, without having seen it in a store or read a single review of it. The book's New York atmosphere was so strong you could just about smell it, and as unlikeable - and unredeemable - as most of the characters were, the writing put you right into their hearts and minds. It made me jealous.

The novel was supposed to be the first of a two-book deal, but if the second ever surfaced, I'm not aware of it. MARTIN QUINN was eventually reprinted in trade paperback, with the generic title THE FIX, and seems to have vanished just as quickly as the hardcover. That's a shame, as is the fact we've yet to see another book from this ferociously talented writer. Anthony Lee, come back.