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Old Flame (Jackson Steeg Mysteries)by Ira Berkowitz
Synopses & Reviews
Dark streets. Darker secrets.
Jackson Steeg thought hed finally put all that behind him.
He was wrong.
Jackson Steeg isnt an NYPD homicide cop anymore, not since the bullet he took to the lung. But Steegs retirement is looking anything but relaxing.
After months of death threats, his ex-wifes new flame is beaten to death outside a chichi restaurant in the Meatpacking District. When Steeg starts pulling on strings, he discovers that his old pals on the force are strangely reluctant to investigate the murder.
Meanwhile, Steegs Hells Kitchen roots prove impossible to escape when a neer-do-well childhood friend finds himself deep in debt to a vicious mobster. Steegs brother, Dave, wants to help, but the only language Dave knows is violence, and soon a mob war threatens to erupt.
Now Steegs got two factions of New Yorks nastiest characters aiming for his head. Worse, every thread keeps leading him exactly where he doesnt want to go: his own family.
"Ex-NYPD homicide cop Jackson 'Jake' Steeg, who took a bullet in Family Matters (2006), can't get away from his Hell's Kitchen heritage in Berkowitz's violent and entertaining sequel. Jake's hateful ex-mother-in-law, Jeanmarie Doyle, wants him to help his ex, Ginny, and her new husband, Tony Ferris, who are getting death threats. A reluctant Jake can't avoid getting involved after Tony is brutally murdered. A recovering alcoholic with one good lung, Jake can still mix it up with the tough guys and is quick to do so. The busy plot finds him dealing with corrupt cops and politicians, skinheads, an Israeli gangster and other creeps. Deftly rendering such New York City neighborhoods as Alphabet City and Brighton Beach (Little Odessa), Berkowitz keeps the dialogue rough, the action fast and the characterization thin but sharp as Jake steers his way through the myriad traps thrown in his way." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Most of the novels reviewed here are some variation on the police procedural, in which someone — most often a cop, private eye or reporter — is out to solve a mystery. This genre has an honorable tradition, from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to John D. MacDonald and Ed McBain to current, well-established writers like Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman and others. At best, these... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) writers find ingenious ways to breathe life into the old formula, and it's a delight when they do, because we like to see mysteries solved and wrongs put right. But there are hundreds and hundreds of books being published, and for every one that delights, there are many that disappoint. Ira Berkowitz's "Old Flame" is not without its virtues. It's his second novel, and the first, "Family Matters," won some good reviews and a prize. "Old Flame" moves along fast and offers some vivid writing. But it's more annoying than pleasing. The problems include too many wisecracks, too much profanity, too many "colorful" characters and a general feeling that the author is trying too hard. Jackson Steeg is an ex-cop in New York. He killed a man in the line of duty, was seriously wounded himself and was given a pension. Trouble, inevitably, keeps coming his way. At the outset: "Jeanmarie Doyle, my ex-mother-in-law, loathed me in a biblical way, had poisoned my marriage, and now sat at my kitchen table smiling sweetly, coiled to strike again. ... The same feral madness still bubbled in her eyes." The mother-in-law from hell is there to report that someone is threatening to kill Steeg's ex-wife's new husband, who is black, much to the distaste of the mother-in-law and her own husband, who are bigots. Very soon, the black husband, who worked for a city civil-rights bureau, is beaten to death, and Steeg, his juices a-bubble, jumps on the case. Even as Steeg investigates the murder, a friend of his runs afoul of a ruthless Jewish gangster, and Steeg intervenes. All this is complicated by the fact that Steeg's own brother is a ruthless Irish gangster, who threatens to chop people's heads off and strangle them with their own intestines. Of the Jewish gangster, two characters intone the identical phrase, "The guy's got razor wire in his head." Clearly, these two gangsters are going to collide, like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man, and I knew from the start which one I'd bet on. As Steeg pinballs around town, we see that he is one tough dude, who relishes a good brawl. ("The snakes in my head grew giddy with anticipation.") Time after time, he takes on various skinheads and hoodlums, who are soon horizontal or in flight. Thus, "as of its own volition, my hand grabbed a mug and drove it up into his face. I heard the crunch of his nose flattening against his skull." And "I hit him in the mouth with the iron. In a spray of blood and teeth, Big Tiny fell in sections." We meet Steeg's various sidekicks. His girlfriend Allie is a hip advertising executive who is first glimpsed wearing a "Surrounded by Morons" T-shirt and next a Brooklyn Dodgers T-shirt. They exchange cool dialogue like "Have you no shame?" "Nope." "Another reason why I'm attracted to you." In one scene, "her eyebrow rose fetchingly," and a moment later her "eyebrow arched." Elsewhere, she declares, "We've set the bar too high. Sex can't always be this good. It's not normal!" Steeg's best friend is his ex-partner, Luce, a Louisiana-born black lesbian who declares that he would be her man if she liked men and says things like, "So, some whitey fat cats are (expletive) my people over again. What a surprise! Martin Luther King must be spinning in his grave." The plot leads to a corrupt city councilman who is raking in millions from construction companies. When the councilman invites Steeg to a party he replies, "Thanks, but I have a high colonic scheduled." His gangster brother warns him, "Jake, you're in over your head here, and I don't know that I'll be able to protect you." To which the fearless ex-cop replies, "We all choose the hills we want to die on." Steeg declares of one character, "Noonan seemed to take a special delight in strewing sarcasm like a demented Johnny Appleseed." That seemed to me to apply to Steeg as well. There is a tradition of wisecracks and overwriting in private-eye novels. It goes back to Raymond Chandler, but he compensated with loads of wonderful writing. Berkowitz doesn't compensate. His souped-up prose, to borrow one of Steeg's pet phrases, makes my head hurt. Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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A gritty, literate noir that provides a fascinating look at the seedy New York still lurking behind the city's gleaming veneer, "Old Flame" is both a valentine to hardboiled fiction fans and a great introduction to the genre--Chelsea Cain, author of "Heartsick."
About the Author
IRA BERKOWITZ is a native New Yorker and former advertising executive. His first novel, Family Matters, won the Washington Irving Literary Award.
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