Saturday, August 23, 2008

Michael Koryta's ENVY THE NIGHT

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been on vacation up north. That being said, I did manage to read a couple books in betweeen drinking and fishing. The first one was Michael Koryta's latest, a stand-alone entitled Envy the Night.

Koryta's P.I. series featuring Lincoln Perry/Joe Pritchard is one of the few "traditional" private detective series that I follow. Koryta has a tendency to cite Dennis Lehane as an inspiration every time he opens his mouth and there are certainly some similarities between the Perry/Pritchard books and the Kenzie/Gennaro novels (written in first person, lots of action, great characters, and the MAIN THING: the main characters actually grow and change with each book!). With his latest novel, Envy the Night, comparisons to Mystic River are inevitable. Thankfully, Koryta actually deserves such comparisons.

The story follows Frank Temple III, son of a U.S. Marshal/mob hitman who aced himself before being brought down by the FBI seven years previous. The man who ratted out his father, Devin Matteson, is said to be returning to his family's cabin in the North woods of Wisconsin, a cabin on the same land as Frank III's own father's cabin, a cabin on decidedly "sacred" land. Frank Temple III will not let this stand. He and Ezra Ballard, his father's best friend, promised to kill Matteson if he ever returned to the North woods. It seems that Devin is calling their bluff.

As Frank and mob hitmen and FBI agents converge on the lake, there are complications, betrayals, murders and everything else you would hope for. The plot is tight and the characters are rock-solid. From the cranky auto mechanic who can't stand to be ordered around by his female boss to the FBI agent from Chicago with a secret eating away at his soul, it seems everybody character gets their moment or their due with Koryta. The last third of the book has some great action set-pieces involving outboard motor boats along with some startling revelations.

But while the story is about revenge and haunted pasts and has a great sense of place, Koryta never goes as dark (or as blue) as Lehane's modern classic. Koryrta is strictly a PG-13 author - no use of words like fuck, cunt, dick, cock, and the like and certainly no graphic sex is ever described. The violence can occasionally get brutal but you can always tell that there is a limit, that he will never go that far, that the author will not upset the expectations of little-old ladies and casual readers just looking for a nice beach read. I don't know if it is a restriction put on Koryta by his publisher or if it is simply what Koryta is going for as a writer, but the fact is that Koryta does hard-boiled writing that my mom can love.

That being said, I love my mom and the wildly talented Koryta gets better with every book. Obviously, if you haven't read him, Envy the Night is a hell of a place to start. It doesn't hurt to read it up at the cabin or while camping, either.

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