Pub Day Repost: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

This is one of those I spent a couple of days futzing around with — not sure I made it better (or worse) by doing so — I re-arranged a lot, that’s the best I can say. Both Murphy novels are tough to talk about in the abstract, which I think is a pretty good thing. There’s not a lot of fat on them — just good lean prose.

What You BreakWhat You Break

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Gus Murphy, #2
eARC, 368 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: December 1 – 5, 2016

Why? It’s three letters that permeate this novel. We’re all familiar with the need for an answer to that question. From the time that a toddler starts ever so persistently asking that question until the end, we keep wondering, “why?” Few need the answer as much as someone who has to deal with the unexpected death of a younger family member. In Where It Hurts, we saw just what the lack of an answer did to Gus Murphy and his life. So when a grandfather comes to Gus for help finding out why his granddaughter was brutally murdered, there’s no way that he can turn his back on the request. Especially given the inducements being offered.

He wasn’t recruited to solve the murder — the police have a man awaiting sentencing for the crime. But he won’t tell anyone anything about the crime or his relationship (or lack thereof) to the victim. The grandfather, Micah Spears, rubs Gus wrong from the get-go — if it weren’t for Father Bill’s endorsement, and his understanding of Spears’ deep need to know, Gus would’ve walked. It probably would’ve been better for him if he had. Almost no one — especially her family, the police (many of whom are still angry for what Gus turned up in the last book) — wants him to pursue this. The more Gus learns about Linh Trang (she preferred “LT”), the more he becomes convinced that there’s no reason for the killer to want her dead, which just makes the “Why?” even more pressing.

Before he can really start to work for Spears, Gus has a few other why’s to answer — why did his friend/co-worker, Slava, just drive off with the mysterious new guest at the hotel? Why did a Russian gangster get assassinated before Gus’ eyes shortly after Slava and the guest talk to him? Why is there a very formidable Russian running around Long Island looking for Slava? The focus of the novel is on the Spears case, but this storyline casts a shadow over everything. I didn’t really spend too much time in Where It Hurts worried about what would happen to anyone, and the Spears case is more of a puzzle than anything — but there’s peril to this Russian story, and the reader will become convinced that whatever happens in it, will have a large impact on Gus (and not just because of Slava’s involvement).

Gus has grown a bit, made some steps toward health since we last saw him, but he has a lot of work to do. Things with his ex- are about where they were previously, but with less anger (mutually), his romance is progressing with Maggie, and so on. Basically, Gus is becoming someone different from just the ex-cop with a dead son. That sill the core of his being, but there’s something more to it than that — maybe even some room for happiness. It’s hard to discuss briefly, but simply: Gus was better off by the end of Where it Hurts than he was at the beginning, and at the start of this novel, he was better off yet. As for the ending of this book? Well, read it and decide for yourself.

This book deals with some pretty potent things — as Coleman did when we met Gus — there’s love, friendship, loss, grief, confusion and resentment, to name a few of the ingredients in the emotional cauldron everything in the novel is steeping in. Not just from Gus, Slava and Spears — but everyone in the book is dealing with things that no one should have to, but most of us do. I’d like (but cannot expect) to circle back around and see how LT’s friends are doing in a couple of years, ditto for her sister and ex-step-grandmother. I’d like a lot more time with a judge that Gus interviews, as well as Gus’ lawyer. I expect the latter, at least, will be granted to me.

Spears and Gus do get some answers as to why LT was killed — but, as is so often the case, really those answers don’t satisfy much and lead to further questions. No tidy bows here for anything — which isn’t to say the concluding scenes of the novel won’t satisfy the reader, just that there’s no pat endings or rides off into the sunset. Just survivors (not saying how many of them there’ll be) moving on. The Epilogue will stay with you. That’s really all I can say.

This book put me through the wringer — not as much as Gus and Slava were, but still — Coleman has really topped himself from Where it Hurts, we know these people better now, so he can push them further. I lost sleep with this one, which isn’t that unusual, but I lost more sleep staying up to get through this than I have in a long time. There’s a darkness, an emptiness throughout that wasn’t there in our first encounter with Gus — or if it was, it’s changed in source and intensity. I’m not sure many readers will like where Gus is by the time we get to book 3 or 4 (including me) — but I’ll understand it. Coleman’s making sure his writing and characterization is honest, as real as fiction can get.

Once again, he delivers a crime novel that could be mistaken for a non-genre novel (as if such a thing exists), suitable for thoughtful crime readers or those who don’t mind crime to show up in a novel about a parent redefining himself after the death of a child.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. It didn’t change my opinions on the book, I was simply able to form them a couple of months early.


4 1/2 Stars

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