As a fan of hard-boiled crime thrillers, my taste in the fictional genre is bent toward the likes of Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke, just to name a few.
I like crime stories that are dark and seamy, where the supposed good guys are usually bad and the supposed bad guys are usually good. They’re who they are because they have gotten the shaft sometime in their lives.
Like James Beck, for example, the main protagonist in John Clarkson’s latest novel, “Bronx Requiem.” This is Clarkson’s second book featuring Beck, an ex-con who was wrongfully convicted of killing a cop.
Clarkson introduced Beck in the previous novel “Among Thieves,” a book I now plan on reading after finishing his latest Beck installment.
In “Bronx Requiem” we learned Beck wouldn’t have survived in prison without the help of Paco “Packy” Johnson, who entered the juvenile justice system at age 10 and had spent his entire adult life in prison.
After Beck’s murder conviction gets overturned, he works hard to get his friend, Packy, freed on parole. Beck is successful, but Packy is a free man only for a few hours before he is murdered on the streets of the Bronx while searching for his estranged daughter.
Beck and several of his associates (Beck is a ringleader of a tight clique of ex-cons based in Brooklyn’s Red Hook) are determined to find Packy’s killer and exact justice.
Meanwhile, politically ambitious homicide detectives make Beck — a person they believe to be a cop-killer — the target of their investigation and look to pin Packy’s slaying on him and send him back to prison.
As the result of his vigilante investigation, Beck discovers a profitable prostitution ring operated by some of the Bronx’s most wanted crime figures and a den of corrupt cops and prison officials to boot.
The suspense and the pile of dead bodies keep building in the pages of “Bronx Requiem” as Beck tries to identify who killed his friend and for what reason. Beck is in a race to take down the real criminals before the cops can arrest him and his associates for the crime.
Clarkson has a gift for storytelling, and “Bronx Requiem” is full of suspense and surprises. It is a treat for fans of gritty crime stories.
“Bronx Requiem” by John Clarkson (Minotaur Books, 388 pages, in stores).