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Manhattan Nocturne Hardcover – September 3, 1996


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Amazon.com Review

In this full-bore detective tale of scandal and mayhem in the Big Apple, Colin Harrison whips up noir for the 90s, complete with a jaded newspaperman protagonist, a mysterious femme fatale, exhaustive travelogues of the meat-grinder labyrinth of Manhattan, and an elusive jade figurine. Harrison weds a literary sensibility to this tangled tale, but the pleasures of the novel come mainly from the conventional elements of all detective fiction: the assembling of apparently disconnected pieces into a coherent puzzle.

From Publishers Weekly

If it weren't for the miles of dangerous videotape that snake through this marvelous story, binding its participants to each other and to their ever more elaborate lies, Harrison's latest (after Bodies Electric) could take place in the Manhattan of 40 years ago. The nostalgia is so palpable that the opening scenes conjure images of a jaded reporter sidling through the city's midnight shadows, intent on getting "the story." Porter Wren (returning from earlier Harrison novels) is a columnist for a New York daily tabloid, happily married with two kids and a terrifying mortgage, when he's approached at a swank party by a woman who in earlier parlance would have been called a "dame." She's Caroline Crowley, widow of hot young filmmaker Simon Crowley. Not even Wren's native cynicism cues him to Caroline's real intentions until he has compromised himself and his family's safety. Crowley was found mysteriously dead in a Lower East Side lot; more than a year later, his murder remains unsolved, but that doesn't seem to be foremost on Caroline's mind. Her current predicament concerns the monstrous billionaire who owns Wren's paper, and who believes a mystery video that has been turning up repeatedly in his office must be coming from her. All Caroline asks is that Wren find the original video, which has nothing to do with Simon's death?maybe. But as Wren was advised years earlier by a washed-up journalist, "It's all one story." Harrison shows the truth of this maxim as he deftly connects dozens of far-flung characters?a pair of sad, dotty lawyers in Queens, a spurned lover who shot his fiancee, a nanny in Wren's service?and as many Manhattan locales into a breathtaking collage. His prose brims with the anguish and joy, the guilt and regret and recklessness, of hundreds of the city's voices. He proves that it is all one story?and one that will keep readers enthralled. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 355 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (September 3, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517584921
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517584927
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,346,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Falco Gingrich on March 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Colin Harrison is an enigma. He writes some of the best thrillers out there, but he has a real tendency to frustrate me as a reader even while I'm marveling over the brilliance of his work. Harrison is an absolutely spectacular writer, and his gifts are especially well suited to his particular niche: the thriller in which the ordinary man finds himself in dangerous and threatening situations. One of the things I like about Harrison's thrillers (with the exception of his most recent and most disappointing book, "Afterburn,") is that his heroes tend to find themselves dragged down into desperate struggles because of their own human frailty than because of some madman terrorist bent on revenge or a serial killer in the process of "becoming."
In "Manhattan Nocturne," the protagonist, struggling under the prodigious name Porter Wren, is a newspaper columnist who falls for a seductive beauty, who wants his help in recovering a lost videotape made by her dead film director husband. Meanwhile, a powerful media magnate wants the same tape, and threatens to expose Wren if he doesn't find the tape for his (the magnate's) purposes. The plot leans a bit toward the needlessly rococo at times, and I felt the ending piled it on a bit too thick, but it still gripping, page-turning, and utterly pleasurable to read.
This is a novel with tension, drama, interesting and three-dimensional characters, and genuine energy. But like Harrison's inexplicably out-of-print masterpiece "Bodies Electric" (very possibly the best thriller I've ever read), "Manhattan Nocturne" gets bogged down a bit under the weight of the author's detailed sexual ruminations. I am not a prude, but I find myself thinking "enough already" pretty quickly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dominic Buschi on April 24, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book definitely tries to be too much: A bit of Thriller, some Psychologoy, Philosophy, Literature, etc. And this is unfortunate, as Harrison definitely is a good writer: Porter Wren, Hobbs and Cynthia are good characters and the description of New York is great.
The plot is a bit a mess, but sometimes the narrative is strong enough to cover it up and it has enough drive to keep you going.
If the editor had done a better job and shortened this book by 80 to 100 pages - very often Porter Wren is just rambling on about stuff, nothing to do with the story and not very insightful -, it could have been a slick yuppie thriller!
If it's sitting in your bookcase (as in my case), read it. If not, don't bother to hunt it down.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By S. Harris on November 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Well, Harrison can write. Perhaps too much. One major problem for the novel: Sex. A little in this department goes a long way. I've read plenty of sex scenes in novels, going back to Sonny Corleone shaking the door in the Godfather during the wedding. Good writers seem to know how to place such scenes within the larger context of the novel. Especially so in crime novels. With Harrison however, there seems to be a pornographic line crossed. (Suggestion and mystery - forget it.) Or perhaps it's meant to be a commentary on America and voyeurism. Indeed, not far below the surface of Manhattan Nocturne are all kinds of commentaries - on sex, on celebrity, on film, on materialism and the power of money. All are worthy topics, but any novel that tries to tackle them all is bound to fail. Bound up in all these ruminations is the search for Truth, as Harrison reminds us through the mouths of several characters. I suppose that's why the character Porter Wren can offer up such clear eyed but intimate details on his lovemaking with his wife. (He's a journalist after all.) But other than revealing there is a mystery in her desires that has much to do with her, and little to do with him (other than fulfilling a big time male fantasy), it still doesn't reveal much about her other than suburban kinkiness. (And of course, she's a good mother.) The fact that Harrison returns to such bedroom scenes should be some sort of writing sin.
On the good side, Harrison does create some memorable characters (Caroline is a good femme fatale). In fact, Caroline's story within the story was more memorable than the actual story itself.. Dialogue sounds right. And the plot's not bad either, though twisty as hell, with something of a whimper ending.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on September 5, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Porter Wren, prominent New York tabloid columnist, is approached by a beautiful woman while attending a society party. The woman, Caroline Crowley, entices Wren with bait he cannot resist--she has a story to tell. Wren's decision to listen to that story has fateful consequences, placing his marriage and his life at risk.

Caroline is the widow of Simon Crowley, an up and coming movie director who died under mysterious circumstances. Over the years, Simon, a devoted student of the bizarre, compiled a collection of covertly filmed videos chronicling hundreds of strange and disturbing examples of human behavior. Since Simon's death, Caroline has been threatened by corpulent billionaire Hobbs, an Aussie press lord who believes she possesses a tape which may be damaging to his interests. Caroline, professing to know nothing about the tape, asks Wren to find it. Seduced by the woman and her story, Wren agrees, altering his life forever.

Harrison exploits classic noir archetypes--the femme fatale, the evil "Fat Man", and the protagonist in over his head--and successfully updates them. In Manhattan Nocturne, these stock characters are edgier, more three dimensional. The seductive female is more complex than the scheming sirens of yesteryear, the villain feels pain, and the hero, often the victim in these pieces, is savy and resourceful, although not enough to completely salvage the situation. Their interaction propels the narrative; their believabilty gives the book its credibility.

As narrator, Wren, a trained observer, misses very little. Painfully self aware, he describes the outer depravity he sees and the inner turmoil he feels. Readers are treated to a variety of stunning imagery, rendered in telling detail.
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