Monday, January 18, 2010

Mystery Book Review: The Ranks of Jody Brae by Jonathan Michael Cullen

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Ranks of Jody Brae by Jonathan Michael Cullen. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Ranks of Jody Brae by Jonathan Michael Cullen


Block Island (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-9796816-9-3 (0979681693)
ISBN-13: 978-0-9796816-9-1 (9780979681691)
Publication Date: November 2009
List Price: $22.50

Review: Jonathan Michael Cullen's debut novel, The Ranks of Jody Brae, introduces a police detective torn between his past and the present, a darkly written story set during a turbulent time in 1960s Boston.

Jody Brae is a detective with the Internal Affairs Division of the Boston Police Department. A loner, subject to frighteningly vivid nightmares, he lives in the suburb of Roxbury, where old, dilapidated buildings seem to be going up in flames at an alarming rate. The largely poor and non-white neighborhood isn't given much attention in the news, or by the police and fire departments. Brae and his new partner, Harrigan, a Nation of Islam black man from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, are assigned to investigate. Being members of IAD, they aren't trusted by their fellow cops, relying instead on an informal network of informants. When a building adjacent to a mosque burns, a member contacts Harrigan with information about the fire, asking to meet him in the basement of the mosque. Instead, Harrigan is brutally beaten. Regaining consciousness in the hospital, he slips a note to Brae: "They are involved. I heard everything. Don't trust anyone." Brae is abruptly removed from the case, but can't forget the visions of children forced to leave their homes as a result of the fires. He makes every effort to find who's setting the fires, even if it means risking his own life in the process.

The Ranks of Jody Brae doesn't read as a typical crime novel, at times leaning more towards literary fiction rather than genre fiction. That's not necessarily bad or wrong, but those readers seeking an entertaining, plot-driven mystery will not find it here. It is much more of a character study, specifically a single character study, told from the perspective of Jody Brae, whose psychological problems no doubt are intended to contrast (or maybe complement) the social issues of the day. But his portrayal is more depressing than enlightening, his attitude more negative than positive, and despite his seemingly sincere dedication to his community, he is really a hard character to like. Possibly had the book been written in third person, he might have come across differently, identifying less with the reader. As such, if one can come to terms with the character, what follows will likely be satisfactory, enjoyable even. Otherwise, it's a tough book to appreciate.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for contributing her review of The Ranks of Jody Brae and to Jonathan Michael Cullen for providing an ARC of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Boston 1964: Fires rage throughout Roxbury, a vast urban slum, destroying buildings and leaving families homeless. The local press, politicians and civic leaders have all ignored the rash of fires, probably because the Arson Squad has determined every incident to be accidental. But, as the fires become a nightly affair, police reports and building records go missing and fear becomes a regular companion for the residents of Roxbury.

What begins as a routine investigation turns into a nightmare of survival for Jody Brae, a Boston cop who grew up in an orphanage in the neighborhood. As Roxbury burns, he wanders the back alleyways of the city alone, determined to uncover the secret of the fires. Abandoned by his own police department and questioned by the woman he loves, Brae's search leads him to an aging underworld figure who knows as much about the fires as he does about Brae's own troubled past. With no one left to trust, Brae makes a pact he may not live to regret.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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