The Ranks of Jody Brae
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.
Acknowledgment: Jonathan Michael Cullen provided an ARC of The Ranks of Jody Brae for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Ranks of Jody Brae: Boston
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The Ranks of Jody Brae by Jonathan Michael Cullen
Publisher: Block Island
Publication Date: November 2009
List Price: $22.50
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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