What You Breakby Reed Farrel Coleman
Former Suffolk County cop Gus Murphy returns to prowl the meaner streets of Long Island’s darkest precincts with a Russian mercenary at his back in the stunning second installment of Reed Farrel Coleman’s critically acclaimed, Edgar-nominated series.
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Selected as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Month for February
Former Suffolk County cop Gus Murphy returns to prowl the meaner streets of Long Island’s darkest precincts with a Russian mercenary at his back in the stunning second installment of Reed Farrel Coleman’s critically acclaimed, Edgar-nominated series.
Gus Murphy and his girlfriend, Magdalena, are put in harm’s way when Gus is caught up in the distant aftershocks of heinous crimes committed decades ago in Vietnam and Russia. Gus’s ex-priest pal, Bill Kilkenny, introduces him to a wealthy businessman anxious to have someone look more deeply into the brutal murder of his granddaughter. Though the police already have the girl’s murderer in custody, they have been unable to provide a reason for the killing. The businessman, Spears, offers big incentives if Gus can supply him with what the cops cannot—a motive.
Later that same day, Gus witnesses the execution of a man who has just met with his friend Slava. As Gus looks into the girl’s murder and tries to protect Slava from the executioner’s bullet, he must navigate a minefield populated by hostile cops, street gangs, and a Russian mercenary who will stop at nothing to do his master’s bidding. But in trying to solve the girl’s murder and save his friend, Gus may be opening a door into a past that was best left forgotten. Can he fix the damage done, or is it true that what you break you own...forever?
Shamus Award–winner Coleman delves deep into the wounded psyche of his ex-cop lead, Gus Murphy, in his outstanding sequel to 2016’s Where It Hurts. Gus, who’s still struggling with the sudden death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr., kills time working as a courtesy-van driver shuttling between a ratty Suffolk County hotel and Long Island’s MacArthur Airport. Meanwhile, the hidden past of his friend Slava Podalak, the hotel’s night bellman, has resurfaced with a vengeance, and Gus becomes a witness to murder. In addition, Gus’s confidant, Bill Kilkenny, a former priest, asks him to help the wealthy Micah Spears find out not who butchered his granddaughter but why. Spears makes Gus an offer impossible to resist—funding a youth sports foundation in John Jr.’s name. Coleman doesn’t pull any punches or settle for pat character arcs in presenting a realistically flawed Gus, who realizes that his morality “was not so much a search for the truth as a set of rationalizations that let sleep at night.” Agent: David Hale Smith, Inkwell Management. (Feb.)
“Gracefully gritty…impressive….Coleman is a talented writer.” –Washington Post
“Coleman writes some of the best prose in modern crime fiction…stunning.”—Booklist
“Outstanding....Coleman doesn’t pull any punches or settle for pat character arcs in presenting a realistically flawed Gus, who realizes that his morality “was not so much a search for the truth as a set of rationalizations that let [him] sleep at night.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Part police procedural, part human interest story, part philosophical monolog, and totally fun reading.”—Library Journal
“Told in vivid prose mingled with hard-boiled action, Coleman continues to evoke the sensibilities of a bygone era of crime writers. No one today is doing this better.”—Deadly Pleasures
“Long Island has its own laureate of the LIE in the form of Reed Farrel Coleman and his hard-bitten sleuth Gus Murphy….It’s not just the details Coleman gets right, it’s the whole structure of class, race and money…the climax…is a corker—tensely narrated and genuinely dramatic. And Coleman has the cunning to leave much of Gus’ past clouded in secrecy, ripe for future revelations—and adventures.” –Newsday
“A gripping and beautifully crafted novel about a fascinating character whose complexities and observations about life elevate the novel beyond its genre.” –The Huffington Post
“What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman is the sort of novel which rises above the crowded pool of thriller books and shines as a star…stunning…a masterpiece!” –Mystery Tribune
“With Gus Murphy, Reed Farrel Coleman has created one of the most complex and dangerous series heroes of the 21st century.” –MysteryPeople
“[Coleman] is at the top of his game….Reading a Reed Farrel Coleman book is surrendering your mind to a master teacher.”—Huffington Post
“Coleman delivers an action-packed thriller strengthened by solid character studied. The brisk plot delves into the dark corners of Long Island and the people who live there….Coleman’s affinity for involving plots elevates What You Break and shows why he has just been nominated for an Edgar Award for the first novel in the series….What You Break is strongest when Coleman takes a tour of Suffolk County, showing the seedy and the affluent areas. Gus’ existential musings illustrate his complicated personality and show why he is worth rooting for.” –SouthFlorida.com
Praise for Where It Hurts
“A gut punch of a novel, a murder mystery layered with grief, greed, and grit. Coleman is as good as Chandler, Hammett, or Ed McBain.”—Nelson DeMille
“One of the greatest voices in contemporary crime fiction, and one of the best storytellers, too. I loved this book. Nobody does it better.”—Lee Child
“Superb . . . another standout series . . . in Coleman’s hands, all the standard elements seem as radiant and new as a freshly peroxided blonde. . . . Where It Hurts is one of those evocative mysteries that readers will remember as much for its charged sense of place as for any of its other considerable virtues.”—The Washington Post
“Stellar series kickoff . . . Coleman’s moving portrayal of a man in deep, deep pain, a tightly constructed plot, and a gift for making Long Island seem like James Ellroy’s L.A. add up to a winner.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Gus . . . is absolutely one of genre veteran Coleman’s best-drawn characters. . . . He meets his tragedy and its consequences with a considered straightforwardness, and his desire for justice reawakens in time with the investigation’s quickening tempo, hopefully signaling the start of a series.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Coleman has long been one of the best crime novelists in the business. . . . Where It Hurts is a superb detective novel in the Raymond Chandler tradition, featuring fine prose, a suspenseful yarn and a compelling main character who will leave readers hungering for the next installment.”—Associated Press
After his son's sudden death, Gus Murphy was a tortured soul. He credits his recovery to his friendship with ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, so when Kilkenny asks Murphy to meet a friend, he agrees. The friend is Micah Spears, whose granddaughter was brutally murdered. Spears wants answers, but the apprehended killer is silent. Gus, a cop-turned-van driver for a Long Island hotel, gets caught up in a second case when one of his passengers is murdered gangland style. It turns out Gus's coworker and friend Slava, who has a secretive past, had known the stranger previously. Murphy is your average caring guy, who is good at his job and full of faults, whose philosophy is evident and commentary on point. Murphy is not slick, but he is effective. VERDICT Coleman's second series outing (after Where It Hurts) is part police procedural, part human interest story, part philosophical monolog, and totally fun reading. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY
Two new cases threaten to break an unofficial Long Island private eye who really doesn't need to be broken.Smooth, feral energy czar Micah Spears wants John Augustus "Gus" Murphy to take enough time from his duties working security at the Paragon Hotel to look into the death of his adopted granddaughter, Linh Trang. Spears doesn't need to know whodunit—the Suffolk County cops already have a suspect, Asesinos gang member Rondo Salazar, dead to rights—but simply why, since Salazar won't say a word to anyone. Gus ("I didn't believe in God, but I believed in sin") instinctively bristles at Spears' request, but their mutual friend, ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, vouches for him, and Spears offers a sizable donation to set up a youth sports foundation in the name of Gus' late son, John Jr. (Where It Hurts, 2016). So Gus takes the case and instantly gets distracted by the arrival of a dubious Paragon guest calling himself Michael Smith. Smith's obviously in with Gus' friend, Paragon bellman Slava Podalak, so when he sees them leaving the hotel together, Gus follows them to a meeting that turns into an execution minutes after they leave the scene. Who is Smith, what hold does he have over Slava, and what does their dark shared secret have to do with the killing of Linh Trang? Gus' conscientious questioning of witnesses and suspects produces such meager results that you know he's going to need help from an unexpectedly benevolent providence to solve either case. "Knowledge of the dead changes nothing," announces the shop-soiled hero in resignation. Maybe not, but it does add a soulful depth to his investigation while readers wait for his two cases to collide.
Read an Excerpt
He was one of the chatty passengers, the type who wanted to be my pal, my best pal ever. Just my luck. I usually worked security at the club on Saturday nights, but with Fredo at his sister’s wedding and our substitute driver out sick, I had to drive. For my first year on the job as the nightshift courtesy van driver for the Paragon Hotel, I hated guys like this. The compulsive talkers who dealt with their anxieties about flying or being near New York City or being away from the wife and kids by making nice with the poor schmuck who drove the three-stop route between Long Island MacArthur Airport, the hotel, and the Long Island Rail Road’s Ronkonkoma station. And this guy had it bad. He was a determined sort.
“So—hey, what’s your name, anyway?”
“So, Gus . . . Gus, huh? What’s that short for? August? Gustave? -Unusual names, either one, huh?”
I nodded, not bothering to tell him that Gus was an abbreviated version of my middle name, Augustus. What for? This wasn’t an actual conversation. It was verbal smoke that would waft away and disperse into nothingness the moment I unloaded his bags and turned him over to the new night clerk for registration. It was a trick of time, a way to waste the empty minutes, to fill them up with something, anything other than reflection or thought. But I was onto the trick of time and I knew all there was to know about emptiness.
On and on it went. Where did I come from? What did I do before this? Was I married? Did I have kids?
That first year, either I wouldn’t answer or I’d grunt or I’d make stuff up. Anything to deflect or to quiet the chatter, anything not to tell the truth. That I was from Smithtown. That I was three-plus years retired from the Suffolk County Police Department. That I was divorced. That I once had two kids, but now only had one. The last part, the part about losing a kid, that was really the answer to all of his questions, to any questions about me, because it defined me. Who I was, where I came from, all the answers, none of it mattered. I was once somebody, then my son John died, then I was somebody else. Before John Jr. During John Jr. After John Jr. It was like that. I was still becoming that somebody else. I supposed I would be becoming him until the moment I stopped drawing breath.
Thankfully, it was the short run I was driving, the one from the terminal at MacArthur back to the hotel, and I wouldn’t have to deal with Mr. Curious for too much longer. Actually, I’d moved my focus away from Chatty before we’d made it out the airport exit and turned onto Vets Highway. No, my attention was fixed on my other passenger, the one half bathed in shadow in the last row of the van.
He hadn’t said anything to me when I hoisted his beat-up blue duffel bag into the back of the van and had only nodded when I asked if he was going to the Paragon Hotel. He’d headed straight for the last row of seats, though the van had capacity for twelve people and there was only him and the talker along for the ride. I don’t know why, exactly, but I got the sense he was a foreigner. I laughed at myself for thinking that word. “Foreigner,” such an outdated term, like something my belligerent drunk of a father might’ve used or a word out of a ’50s movie about marauding Commie spies in our midst.
Both my passengers had gotten off a Southwest flight from Fort Lauderdale. Not much intrigue in flights from Fort Lauderdale, just a lot of old snowbirds who split their time between New York and Florida. No intrigue on any flights into MacArthur because there were no international flights. There were barely any flights to anywhere anymore, and the place was down to two airlines. Word was that Islip Township, the authority that ran the airport, was trying like mad to lure an Icelandic airline to fly into MacArthur. If that failed, I guess they could always try for Burkina Faso Airlines with daily nonstop flights to Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Either way, it might add a little character to Suffolk County, certainly to the parts of Suffolk County that weren’t the Hamptons. Which is to say, most of the county. For the vast majority of Suffolk residents, the Hamptons might as well have been as far away as Ouagadougou or Reykjavík.
I also got the sense that the foreigner was running. From what or from whom or to where, I couldn’t say. But that he was a runner, I knew. A street cop, even one who worked the less-than-mean streets of East Northport and Commack, knows a runner when he sees one. Although his vacant blue eyes were hidden in the shadows, I felt them on me as I glanced back at him in my rearview mirror. I felt them darting from side to side, alert, on the lookout, assessing. Where was the threat coming from? Who was a threat? Where could I run? Who could I trust? And then there was his frayed blue duffel bag: faded, stitched—ragged, ugly unskilled stiches like drunken railroad tracks—taped and taped again. It hadn’t been neatly packed, but was lumpy and unevenly weighted. It was the kind of bag a man who has to move on the spur of the moment might pack. He might just shove all of his things, his dirty laundry, his books, his family photos, his secrets into it, and go.
The chatter stopped, as it always did, when I pulled the van into the driveway of the Paragon and parked beneath its weirdly ’80s-style portico that had somehow escaped remodeling. I flung the column-mounted gearshift into park, the van lurching forward. I used my left foot to kick the door open, hopped out of the driver’s seat, ran around to the side of the van closest to the hotel entrance, and swung open both side doors to let my passengers out. I went to the rear of the van and unloaded the chatty guy’s two roller bags and the runner’s duffel. Chatty gave me two dollars and strolled toward the hotel without a word. I guess we weren’t best pals anymore.
The runner didn’t tip me. Didn’t speak. He just picked up the duffel, his head on a swivel, and moved to the hotel entrance. I didn’t care much about him beyond the potential for trouble that might surround any runner. I had to care about that much because I doubled as the hotel detective. That was part of my deal with the Bonacker family, the folks who currently owned the Paragon. I drove the van four nights a week, bounced at the Full Flaps Lounge on weekends, provided my police expertise and, when called for, my muscle. In return, I got paid a modest salary and a free room for as long as I was employed at the hotel. So far it had worked out well for us all, which was why I made sure to keep an eye on the runner as he made his way through the sliding doors.
It was when he got inside that I noticed something that piqued my interest in him even more than his duffel bag or his suspicious eyes. Slava, the night bellman and my friend, a man who worked nights because the dark helped hide his past, blanched at the sight of the runner. I didn’t know much about where Slava had come from or why he’d come to the States. He refused to share those things with me because he was so ashamed by them that he didn’t want to think about them himself. That much he’d shared. But one thing I knew about Slava, a big, ugly man with a jolly demeanor, was that there wasn’t much in the world that scared him. So why, I wondered, was he scared now? What about the runner, a thin, weak-jawed man with high flat cheekbones, scared Slava?
Then I saw it, the subtle exchange between them. The runner smiled at Slava. It was a slight, sad smile of recognition, which Slava greeted with a frown and a quick shake of his large, nearly bald head. And that was it. Snap! Done. Over, just like that. If I had blinked or turned away for the briefest second, I would have missed it completely. The runner moved to the registration desk and Slava headed out of the hotel toward me, fishing a cigarette out of his jacket, fumbling for his lighter.
“Gus,” Slava said, his still unlit cigarette dangling from the yellowed corner of his lips. “How is doing your night?”
I shrugged, not sure I wanted to give myself away or to put him on the spot. One of the deals Slava and I had made was that we would not pry into each other’s lives, especially our past lives. We could share a meal together, drink together, even help each other out when it was called for, but it was strictly verboten to dig in yesterday’s direction. Our lives, as far as our friendship was concerned, began the day we started working together at the Paragon. And until the runner did something that put the hotel, its guests, or its staff in danger, I wasn’t going to ask Slava about him, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. Really curious.
“Same as always,” I lied. “Same as always.”
The next morning I woke up thinking about the runner and Slava. There was a time not too long ago when my first thought every morning was the same thought: John Jr. Well, that’s not accurate, not completely. John would be at the center of my first thought, but the focus would shift. Sometimes the focus would be on remembering his death, all the horrible episodes surrounding it coming at me like the distinct flashes of a strobe light: the call from Annie, telling Krissy about her brother, the hospital, the wake, the burial. The cruelest thing in life, a parent putting a kid in the ground. Sometimes it was the emotions: the hurt, the rage, the sorrow, the grief. The grief . . . that was still present, like the background traffic noise when you lived close to the expressway. It had once been a blaring train horn blasting in my ears all day long until I’d wanted to surrender to it. But the warning horns were moot. The train had already run me down. There was no getting out of the way.
Sometimes they were good memories, though. I can’t pretend there weren’t good memories, too. Memories of John Jr. playing basketball—he was always at peace playing b-ball—John at the kitchen table checking his sister’s homework, John as a little boy falling asleep in my lap at Yankee Stadium. Annie reading with John before bedtime. Good or bad, they were relentless, giving me no rest, no escape, no peace. It was only when I’d begun to resent my dead son, to hate him for dying and haunting my every waking moment, that I turned to someone for help.
Doc Rosen had saved me from myself. He would deny it, had denied it when we’d spoken about it. But just because he refused to take credit didn’t make it any less true. It was Dr. Rosen who’d gotten me out into the world again, who had basically drawn footstep patterns on the floor of his office and shown me how to put one foot before the other. Right foot, then left foot. One step, then two steps, then, before you know it, you’re walking. And only the living walk, John. Only the living. And it was my appointment with Doc Rosen that I was headed to when I stopped down at the front desk to talk with Felix.
Felix, who ran the front desk during the day shift, was my friend, too, much in the same vein as Slava. Felix had come from the Philippines and had shared some of his story with me, but he also had his secrets, though seemingly less sinister ones than Slava. Felix was the kind of guy who would beat himself up with guilt over having once thought about stealing a piece of gum. He would never have taken the gum, not Felix, and there was something really cool about people like him. Honesty that wasn’t self-serving or reflexive was in very short supply these days. Perhaps it always had been.
“Gus, good morning to you.” Felix extended his short arm to me. We always shook hands. I liked that about him. “What is going on today?”
“Heading out for a little while. Hey, listen, a guy checked in last night around the same time as Mr. Logan. Both got off a Lauderdale flight.”
Felix’s smile vanished as he tapped the keyboard on the desk in front of him.
“Why, is there trouble with him? I mean, will there be trouble?” His Filipino inflection got intense when he became agitated.
Felix was a worrier, always looking for trouble, and finding it even when it wasn’t there. This time, maybe it was there.
“Mr. Michael Smith,” he said. “Room one eleven. Checked in right after Mr. Logan.”
“Smith?” Unoriginal. I laughed a little laugh. “I doubt there’ll be any problems, but I want to make sure. Can you print out all his particulars for me?”
“Certainly, Gus. Just give me a minute.”
As Felix worked the keyboard I asked, “How long a stay is he down for?”
“Let me . . . Okay, no, wait . . .” He was talking more to himself. “Seems like it is an indefinite stay. At least that is what it says here.”
I heard the high-pitched whine as his printer came to life, the soft chatter of its machinery, and then it went quiet.
“Here you go, Gus.”
I took the sheet from Felix but didn’t bother looking at it just yet. Instead, I folded the page once and then once again, sliding it into my back pocket.
“Something from the coffee shop?” I asked.
“No, thank you. I am fine.”
Meet the Author
Reed Farrel Coleman, called “a hard-boiled poet” by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the “noir poet laureate” in The Huffington Post, is the Edgar-nominated author of twenty-three novels and three novellas, including the critically acclaimed Moe Prager series and the first novel in this series, Where It Hurts. A three-time winner of the Shamus Award, he has also won the Anthony, Macavity, Barry, and Audie awards.
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What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman is a very highly recommended second detective novel featuring ex-cop Gus Murphy. Gus is still working as security for the Paragon Hotel in Suffolk County and part time courtesy driver to Long Island’s MacArthur Airport. Gus is asked by his friend Bill Kilkenny, an ex-priest, to meet with Micah Spears and take on an investigation into why Spears granddaughter, Linh Trang, was brutally murdered. The cops have the man who did it, suspect, Asesinos gang member Rondo Salazar, but no one knows why he did it and he's not talking. Spears offers Gus two big incentives to find out the answers: 2 large check, one to fund a youth sports association in John Jr.'s name, his late son, and another to fund research at Stony Brook University Hospital. At the same time it appears that his reticent friend who also works at the Paragon, Slava Podalak, is in trouble. A man with a Russian accent who appears to be on the run has arrived and he and Slava took off together. Gus followed, saw them pick up a third man, and go to his house. After Slava and the first man left, Gus saw the third man gunned down in front of his house. The cops are now questioning Gus when it's reported that his car was near the scene, but Gus doesn't give them any help while he's trying to protect Slava. But when a mysterious Russian hitman implies Maggie's (Gus's girlfriend) life is in danger if Gus doesn't provide him information, Gus needs to protect her too. Gus Murphy is a great character and I'm pleased to see him back in this second novel. Again, the writing is great, the plot is tight, and the action fast-pace. While I didn't like What You Break quite as much as the first Gus Murphy novel, Where It Hurts, we're talking 4.5 to 5, so I still liked it quite a bit. It is just as engrossing as the first and yes, I stayed up way too late to finish it. There are two great factors that make Coleman's Gus Murphy novels so appealing. The first is the character of Gus, who is flawed. He's broken, still hurting, and it seems that memories and emotional minefields are everywhere for him. Gus is smart, though, which leads to the second fact: they are well written and thoughtful. I like that we don't always know what Gus is thinking, that he plays his cards close to his chest. I would expect that of him and appreciate it in the character. When the cases eventually, unexpectedly collide, it is very clever. The end is a bit of a shocker, but it leads to some serious anticipation for the next Gus Murphy novel. You kind of want to tell Gus, "Be careful, Boy-o, with your heart and yourself." Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.
Michael Connolly has Los Angeles, Ian Rankin Edinburgh, Laura Lippman Baltimore; the late Robert Parker Boston; Tim Hallinan Bangkok. Others write about localities they know. And Reed Farrel Coleman not only lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, but takes us on a guided tour, in this novel featuring his somewhat flawed ex-cop Gus Murphy, still suffering after the death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr. Gus, divorced after the death blew up his marriage, lives and works at a second-rate motel, driving a van to and from MacArthur airport and a LIRR station, picking up and dropping off passengers to and from the Paragon and providing security services in exchange for a free room. The night bellman, Slava, who had once saved Gus’s life, is a close friend. When his friend’s past catches up with him and his life is threatened Gus is faced with a dilemma: sacrifice his friend or attempt to help him. Meanwhile, another of Gus’s friends, the ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, asks him to take on finding out why wealthy Miceh Spears’ granddaughter was murdered. The two plots move along simultaneously along the highways and byways stretching from Queens County and Brooklyn right across Long Island. Coleman even delves into the social and economic differences between various localities, with the Long Island Expressway sort of dividing north (white and wealthy) and south (for the most part poorer) and how enclaves protect the richer from others. The novel takes a penetrating look at Gus, his personality and psyche, his assets and flaws. A good read, the novel is recommended
This was the second book in the Gus Murphy series and while I didn't read the first book, I was able to read this one without a lot of questions. Although the death of his son and his divorce was a big question to which there were answers to in the first book. However, while it was mentioned a lot in this book, it did not take away from what was happening in this one. Gus, a retired Suffolk County police officer, is working for a slightly above average hotel as a van driver, security and bouncer for their night club. For this he gets a free room and some cash. In this book, his friend Slava, who works at the hotel also, hooks up with a man whom Gus has just driven from the airport. Gus has already determined that this man needs watching. Slava leaves with this man and Gus follows, witnesses an execution and hides Slava in his marital home where no one is currently living. He's not sure what is going on with Slava but isn't interest in getting more involved. Unfortunately, he's not given a choice. Meanwhile, Gus is called to his old friend's house, Bill, who used to be a clergyman in the church. He is asking Gus to do a job for his friend, Micah Spears. Micah wants to know why his daughter was murdered. They already have the killer, he just wants to know why and the killer isn't talking. Little does Gus know, but both of these cases puts him not only in hot water, but with a huge target on his back. This book was definitely entertaining and had me holding my breath a lot. The twists and turns, the road chases, the dangers around every corner, the threats against Gus, the threats against his girlfriend and the attacks on Gus were just a few things that kept my pulse racing. This was an excellent read and I am glad that I got the chance to do so. Huge thanks to Penguin Group Putnam for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.