I was browsing through my library's audiobook section, looking for my next mystery and reading the brief book descriptions that appear on the audiobook boxes when my eye passed longingly over Pete Hamill's recently released novel,Tabloid City; I have not read much of Hamill's oeuvre, but I loved both Snow in August and Forever and the reviews of Tabloid City were pretty enticing. I picked up the box and happily noted the phrase "double murder" - I was good to go.
Nobody does New York City quite like Pete Hamill; it is fair to say that in his books about New York, Hamill treats the city as an "uber- character," one that exerts an extraordinary influence over the motivations and behaviors of the other players in the story. And no one is left out of the action which takes place over the course of one extraordinary day - Hamill has created an exceptionally rich blend of characters and accomplishes the impressive feat of telling a story in which the sequence of events is more or less equally divided between characters who are very wealthy, those who are merely "well off," those who are solidly middle class, the working poor, and those who lurk at the fringes of society. New York is not only a city of extremes but also a city of great complexity and from Gewanas in Brooklyn,to Greenwich Village, the meat packing District , and the Upper East Side, Hamill captures it all perfectly.
This novel is literary fiction at its best but it is also a great mystery story: a wealthy widow and her administrative secretary have been murdered, a dishonest financier has failed to show up in court for his trial, an American born Muslim extremist feels nothing but rage toward those who don't share his views, and an angry disabled veteran of Iraq has his own ideas about how to exact payback for the losses he has suffered. The nexus between these social extremes is literally the middle class, the law enforcement officers and journalists who are trying to find the killer or killers before more damage is done. Hamill introduces a few red herrings and enough initial ambiguity to keep the reader guessng but as the story proceeds, the identity of the perpetrator gradually comes into focus. At this point, the book takes on the aspects of a thriller, with the tension shifting from trying to identify the killer to trying to stop him before the killing escalates.
Hamill possesses an uncanny ability to describe his characters in a way that permits me to easily conjure up a mental image of each one in my mind's eye. Hamill's characters, in the hands of a lesser author, could easily have turned into a collection of stereotypes but what sets Hamill apart is his ability to provide a sort of psychological profile for each of his main characters that includes enough details from their backstories so that I, as the reader, was made to feel that I really knew who these people were.
Tabloid City, focusing as it does on the last day of the fictional "New York World" serves as a loving eulogy for the world of the printed newspaper; Hamill appears to grudgingly accept the fact that it cannot last forever. He also sends out a few valentines to that other potentially endangered bastion of the printed word, the public library. He even creates a female character who, at age 60, men of a variety of ages still find attractive.
Is it any wonder that I love this guy?