Author(s): Gabriel Cohen
Series: Jack Leightner #1
Published by Open Road on 10/12/2001
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It's not the dead body--Jack Leightner has seen hundred of bodies in his tour with the NYPD. It's not the dank setting--the narrow banks along Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal. So why does the sight of the fatally stabbed young man make the detective almost faint in the canal's tangled weeds?
Jack doesn't understand why he becomes obsessed with this low-priority case, why he allows it to jeopardize his career and even his life. Especially since the investigation draws him exactly where he doesn't want to go: into the heart of Red Hook. The neighborhood is Leightner's bad dream, scene of his troubled childhood and a terrible secret.
The place also compels Jack's estranged son Ben, a young documentary filmmaker fascinated by its history. The Hook has been home to dockworkers and drug dealers, Al Capone and Joey Gallo, a giant public housing project, and one of the nation's greatest ports. Ben wants to find out why the once-thriving waterfront community has become a beautiful ruin--and why it has damaged his own family.
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Red Hook takes the police procedural style and switches the genre from focusing on large events and monumental cases to the mystery of one of the little guys so often forgotten. I commend Cohen for trying to take an area so well-trodden and bring its focus down to a level so often ignored. This book had the potential of opening up a new front for the detective mystery alongside the chase for serial killers and psychopaths. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to that potential.
While the crime isn’t something we see in most mystery novels, strangely because it is so mundane as to be ignored, the characters we have seen thousands of times. A hard bitten detective, disillusioned by the job but drawn to one case everyone else ignores and estranged from his family. It’s like Lightner and his supporting case were pulled out of some detective fiction mold. To be fair all of the characters are competently written. But they are also all something we have seen before.
The location of Red Hook in specific and Brooklyn in general is almost a character in of itself. You can tell Cohen has a real affinity for the place and it really shows in the loving way he details its locals and inhabitants. To people who live or are familiar with the area all this extra time spent describing it will really hit home. For everyone else it goes a little overboard and can lead to the book really slowing down in places.
The other actual issue is that the mystery itself is fairly uninteresting. I don’t need big plot twists and surprises in my mysteries. Give me a solid ‘who done it’ and a trail of clues to get back to the answer and I am a happy reader. Whether it is from focusing on a fairly mundane crime or just the writer getting lost in describing the local, the plot itself is a bit dull. As much time is spent with Lighnter brooding as with following the mystery and when you do follow the mystery it isn’t all that interesting by itself. This can lead to the book being somewhat bland in places.
While Cohen is clearly a decent writer and I applaud some if the ideas behind this book, just not the execution. It’s not a bad book and if you were looking to grab something to read at an airport for a long flight then this would be a good option. It’s just not great either. The one word that comes to mind when thinking about Red Hook is run of the Mill.
Review by Travis Starnes