Title: A Little Night Murder
Author: J.S. Cook
Cover Art: Catt Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link A Little Night Murder
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Historical M/M Romance
Length: Novel/200 PDF pages/63,510 words
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A review by LadyM
Review summary: A decent historical mystery with some problems.
Blurb: In 1942, Pearl Harbor has been bombed and the war is very much in evidence, but it would seem to have little to do with Frank Boyle, a respected Bronx born insurance investigator. He’s a man who can keep secrets, and no one suspects that his boyhood friend—local mob boss Nicky Brooks—is his lover. When Brooks accidentally kills Frank’s younger brother in a shootout, Frank must choose between his affair with Nicky and revenge for his brother’s life.
After Frank betrays Nicky, police detective Sam Lipinski, a Bronx native who has long carried a torch for Frank, makes a move against the mob and lands squarely in the way of Nicky’s plans. Sam smuggles Frank out of New York to keep him safe, and sets him up him in a small northeastern city. But there, a messy insurance investigation involving the Roarkes, who may or may not have killed their own mother for the insurance payout, places him in danger again. Dodging bullets, shady characters, and fallout from the war, Sam and Frank will need far more than luck on their side if they’re ever to see a loving future.
When I chose to review A Little Night Murder, I didn’t know it was a spin-off of Heartbreak Café (reviewed by Aunt Lynn here) and the novel Valley of the Dead. It absolutely isn’t necessary for you to read them, though the characters from these works appear in this book as secondary characters.
Set in Newfoundland and New York in 1942, the book sits somewhere in the range between hardboiled novel and cozy mystery. Contradiction? Why, yes. There is no shortage of violence that happens to our protagonist Frank Boyle, but the story is set in the small community of Sent John’s where everyone knows each other’s business and real and imagined dirty laundry. But World War II is going on and the town is filled with recruits and people on the run from various things and Frank is one of them. After he was shot by a gangster (and former lover) he was sent to jail for killing his seven-year-old brother, Frank accepts a job as an insurance investigator in St. John’s and his first case is anything but easy. When the investigation, a helpful and interested friend, the gangster bent on revenge and odd assortment of local characters are thrown into the mix, it’s a recipe for disaster.
From the author’s previous works I have read, I knew that she has a great writing style capable of capturing the essence of characters and time in just a few descriptive words. This time, it was the way the characters spoke that she used to similar effect. You could almost hear some of them speak. The style was tailored to the historical setting and I liked it very much mainly because it was subtle.
When I started reading A Little Night Murder, I thought it would be an exciting read. And to a point, it was. I enjoyed Frank’s reminiscences of his life in New York and, especially, with Nicky. The author fed us little tidbits and, while we know that things have ended badly between them, their history is slowly revealed. Frank is seduced by a good-looking, charismatic man, seduced into a life that takes him away from poverty and offers excitement. He was not completely unaware of the dark that lurks beneath Nicky’s surface, but he was young and ready to except it – until tragedy strikes. I also liked the fact that Frank feels like a fish out of water in St. John’s. He doesn’t know anybody and has no reputation on the streets so he has to adapt.
However, after the strong beginning the book starts showing some problems. Characters are one of them. All the women, at least the women that play important roles in the book, are shrews and, sooner or later, each and every one of them attacks Frank. Five or six characters that appear in the book are gay or, at least, bisexual and some of them are rather open about it (one addresses the other as someone’s boyfriend pretty much in public) which was unrealistic for 1942. Several characters behaved irrationally to the point of being stupid, including Nicky who was one of the top New York gangsters, as well as Frank, our protagonist. Frank is supposed to be an investigator for 20 years, yet he goes alone to an isolated place to meet a person he knows is guilty and dangerous. I had trouble understanding the characters’ motivations.
Another thing I had a problem with is a relationship between Frank and Sam Lipinski. Their history together is unclear. They knew each other as kids from the neighborhood, met again as young men, but, when we are introduced to them, Frank is hiding from Nicky’s men in Sam’s apartment and soon he is shot. It’s obvious that there is some attraction there but, until Sam shows up in St. John’s, we don’t know if they ever acted on it. And when they meet again and give in to their attraction, it’s hard to see the connection between them. Sam is holding back and, when we learn why, it’s even harder. It doesn’t help that Frank behaves childishly, like a jilted lover or something, and acting stupid in the process. In the end, I wasn’t convinced that their relationship would last.
Additionally, there were a couple of scenes that confused me. They probably have something to do with the previous books and it was not necessary for me to understand them, but I wondered why they were included in the book. One of them was a clandestine conversation between Heartbreak Café’s owner and his waiter that Frank overhears.
Overall, the book promised more than it delivered. Ms. Cook knows how to write, that’s for sure, but the story lines and characters just didn’t play that well with each other. I think she lost some opportunities by trying to give each story line almost equal treatment, so, while some of them were interesting (like Frank’s history with Nicky), both the romance and mystery suffered. For example, the entire plot line with Eamonn Molloy ended up being, in my opinion, pretty useless. But, my opinion is just my own. If you like historical mysteries with a dash of romance, this could be a novel for you.