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Fresh Kills Hardcover – August 21, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Fresh Kills quickly expands past itself, blows away its limiting genre boundaries, and becomes a story of real psychological complexity and emotional realism." --Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love

In Fresh Kills, the murder of John Sanders, Sr. on a New York street corner reunites his estranged and abused children, John, Jr. and Julia. While Julia struggles to keep things together on the home front, Junior, unhinged by his father's death, searches for the killer across the bleak, haunted landscape of his Staten Island hometown. Complicating Junior's pursuit are two police detectives: one, a former childhood friend; the other, a veteran cop who might have his own reasons to wish John, Sr. dead. Junior's emotional state crumbles under the pressure coming at him from every side. Bedding his high school sweetheart doesn't exactly simplify the situation. When the opportunity for revenge presents itself, Junior must decide whether he will continue the chain of violence that has nearly destroyed his life, or give in to the possibility of a new beginning. With emotional intensity, crackling dialogue and a heartfelt sense of place and character, Fresh Kills delivers unexpected and profound insights that speak to the soul of its struggling hero, and heralds a breakthrough voice in fiction.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, Bill Loehfelm moved to New Orleans in 1997 where he's taught high school and college, managed a pizza joint and an antique shop, and tended bar in the Quarter and the Warehouse District. Bill's fondness for his adopted city is complete: "As long as New Orleans endures here, so too will I."

John Sandford on Fresh Kills
John Sandford is the author of Phantom Prey, the latest addition to the bestselling Prey series featuring Lucas Davenport. In an exclusive guest review for Amazon.com, Sandford shares his praise for Bill Loehfelm’s debut novel Fresh Kills and explains why it has the hallmarks of a great thriller.

Fresh Kills is an interesting hybrid, a well-written, fine-quality literary novel wrapped in the thriller genre. The thriller drive--a noir tone, cheap apartments, leather jackets and pistols kept in handy places--pulls the reader through a search for a killer, and an examination of how an abusive father, even after death, can reach from the past and manipulate the life of a grown son.

John Sanders' father is brutally murdered on a sidewalk on Staten Island; Sanders isn't unhappy to see him go: he has nothing good to say about the old man. But the question of what happened--how this could happen--pulls him into an examination of the murder, of his father's life, the lives of his dysfunctional family and his own life.

Unlike most thrillers, where the question is whether or not--or how--the killer will be caught, in Fresh Kills, the most pressing question is whether the execution of his father will somehow bring redemption to the blighted lives of Sanders and his sister.

Fresk Kills is a fine novel, with well-developed characters and a terrific sense of place and time; it's also, in thriller terms, a great read. --John Sandford

A Conversation with Bill Loehfelm on Fresh Kills

When did you realize you wanted to be a novelist?

Bill LoehfelmI never made a conscious decision to be a novelist. It's just something I always thought I would do. I wrote my first "novel" when I was eleven, a thirty-page handwritten manuscript that I sent to Random House. I picked them because they published Walter Farley’s "Black Stallion" series, which I was really into at that age. At least as far as writing a novel, it was never a question of if, it was a matter of when. Naiveté can get you a long way sometimes.

Did you begin by writing mystery, or have you experimented with other genres?

Fresh Kills is my second novel and my first, if you don't count that giant octopus novel, is a mystery as well. I really enjoy reading the genre, and it seems to match my writing style. I've written a number of short stories, but they're all relationship stories, no mysteries. When I was in high school, I wrote Westerns. They were awful rip-offs of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

What about writing mystery appeals to you?

I love the idea of a character pursuing something, especially something that seems to be a lost cause or just out of reach. It's something we all go through, though maybe on a smaller, less dramatic scale. And having that drive inherent in a character makes it easier to come up with a plot. Mystery can deal with some weighty topics: death, loss, justice, revenge, betrayal, sin, redemption. There are endless opportunities for exploring a character. People can get into trouble for complex and sometimes noble reasons. There's no rule that says serious emotional and psychological subject matter is reserved for massive literary tomes. Look at No Country for Old Men or Gone Baby Gone. When you think about it, most every book is a mystery: What's gonna happen next?

Do you have favorite authors who've influenced your writing style?

When I write, I want the efficiency of Hemingway, the lyricism of Fitzgerald, and the humor of Twain. I'll never get there, but that's what I shoot for. Frank Miller, the graphic novelist who wrote Sin City and the Dark Knight Batman series has been a real influence on me. He really knows how to deliver a line, and to write with punch and grace at the same time. Great dark humor. Batman is probably my favorite character in American story-telling. I've been fascinated by the complexities of that character my whole life. I really like Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, and John Banville's "Benjamin Black" novels--they're proof-positive of what I said about mysteries above. The Lovely Bones is another great example. I love Alice Sebold's work. She can't write fast enough for me. Roddy Doyle's got serious game, as well. A lot of musicians have influenced me: U2, Springsteen, Warren Zevon, and the Tragically Hip to name a few. The Gin Blossoms' album New Miserable Experience is a hell of a short story collection.

What made you leave New York for New Orleans?

February. Here we get Mardi Gras, there you get slush and sleet. Seriously though, I'd fallen in love with New Orleans while visiting as a tourist. It was like meeting someone you instantly know is on your wavelength. And I wanted an adventure. I didn't want to spend my whole life within ten miles of where I grew up. Something just told me New Orleans was where I needed to be. It was right.

Is there something about New Orleans that's helped you find and develop your voice?

Time. In New Orleans, taking your time with everything, from a career to a relationship to a cup of coffee is a way of life. And no one thinks you're weird for pursuing the arts. It's a very supportive environment. This place encourages you to take chances and do things differently. Most of the people I know are accomplished musicians, writers, painters, photographers, etc. The attitude here gave me time to write and write a lot, plus the cost of living is pretty low. You don't have to live your whole life at work.

Why did you choose to return home (imaginatively speaking) to write Fresh Kills?

For the longest time, I had Junior returning home after moving away, but the story suffered. He had too few relationships, there wasn't enough interaction with other people. Eventually I realized that his not going anywhere geographically paralleled well with his not getting anywhere emotionally. Staten Island is where this story belongs.

Continue reading our Q&A with Bill Loehfelm

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Superb prose and psychological insights distinguish Loehfelm's debut. Because Staten Island bartender John Sanders Jr. was regularly physically abused as a child by his father, he reacts at first with indifference to the news that John Senior has been killed, execution style, by an unknown assailant. The death has a greater impact on Sanders's sister, Julia, who returns from Boston to make the necessary arrangements and to attempt to reconnect with her brother to create some sense of family from their mutual childhood trauma. While Sanders channels some of his frustration and anger into a search for answers, the emphasis is on family relationships rather than mystery solving. Loehfelm excels in making Staten Island itself a palpable presence, brilliantly evoking the reek of the world's largest landfill that gives the novel its name, as well as the despair of the local residents. (Aug. 21)Note: Loehfelm is the winner of Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award, a contest in which PW reviewed manuscript submissions.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (August 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399155317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399155314
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,439,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
This book starts out as an almost run-of-the-mill "tough guy out to find the truth about his father's violent murder" thriller, in which the protagonist (who we learn to admire) will wreak revenge in a satisfying ending that leaves us with no doubt that justice was somehow served. Nothing wrong with that; but that is not what this book is. The story quickly takes a surprising turn to become an amazing psychological drama centered upon two siblings who are desperately trying to survive their father's murder: one with love and compassion and the other with hatred and self-destructiveness.

John Sanders, Jr. thinks he doesn't care that his father was executed, "gangland style"; he even says that it saved him the trouble of doing it himself. Feeling that the police are botching the investigation, he engages in his own half-hearted, alcohol-fueled inquiries, telling himself he needs to find justice for his sister, Julia, who has returned from art school in Boston to try to re-connect with her brother and to show respect for her deceased mother. We learn that the Sanders family was a deeply dysfunctional family on many levels, with no one left unscarred. John's childhood was marred by the terrible physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his violent father, as well as having to witness the beatings his father ministered to his mother. Julia escaped the beatings for the most part, but she is also deeply affected by growing up amidst the violence. While John and his mother (deceased some years before), were grateful that Julia was not the subject of her father's wrath, this fact only convinced the young John that he was truly a "bad" child. You feel John's pain when, as he recalls the one tiime his father hit his sister, his mother screamed "not my baby!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fresh Kills is marketed as a murder mystery, but it really isn't. It's really about an abused son coming to grips with the damage his father has done to him, with the father's death the critical juncture in the life of John Sanders, Jr.

The story opens with John Sanders, Junior being informed that his father has been murdered in what looks like a gang hit on the streets of New York. From that point on we learn about the physical and mental abuse John Sanders, Senior put his son through, as well as his mother. Most of the novel we find a rather unlikable, volatile, young man careening aimlessly from one aggressive, angry encounter to another. Ostensibly he tells himself his motivation for his confrontations with friends, family, high school enemies, ex-girlfriends, and his aggressive demeanor toward strangers is all an attempt to find the murderer of his father and find some kind of justice for him, even though he hated him. In fact, Sanders is a loser, a loner, and has a very negative outlook on life and people, mostly as a result of the abuse he suffered as a child. His sister Julia, who escaped but was a witness to this abuse, acts as a ballast to him throughout the novel, keeping him from going over the edge. The novel culminates at the father's funeral, where John Sander's, Junior eulogizes his father and has to make a choice between continuing a life of bitter internal acrimony or something better.

This novel is very well written and I really enjoyed the acerbic wit the author displays throughout. The novel draws you in very quickly and as a character sketch it works quite well. The problem is the novel gets very tedious about half way through, as all we see is Sanders is drinking, smoking, fighting, and moving from one bad move after another.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I wanted to like this book -- both from the reviews and prior experience with the author, I expected to enjoy it. I listen to Audio books in my car, and I saved this one for a long trip, expecting to savor it. MISTAKE! The reader -- no other word but "terrible." He has a sing-song delivery. His pacing is so bad that I had to listen to some paragraphs several times to figure out where the sentences began and ended (and hence what the author meant -- not a wise move during a long car trip. Any high school sophomore with basic reading skills could have done as well -- or better.

Will I buy the print or Kindle copy and try again? NO. After 3 hours of listening, I really do not care about any of the characters or plot. The failure, I'm willing to believe, is the reader. But that's the risk for a writer and a publisher when they issue an audio book.

For this audio version, my rating would be lower than one star if that were possible.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not sure what all the fuss is about with this book, particularly since one of my favorite writers (John Sandford) has given such a glowing endorsement. To be succinct, this book tired me out almost immediately. I think that's because this writer seems to believe that spewing obscenities and venom from just about word one is a synonym for deep introspection and psychological insight. Nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, this book has a great first line, terrific first couple of paragraphs, but it wears out its welcome very quickly. I found myself bored after the first fifty pages and have since put this book down with no desire to pick it up again.
Do yourself a favor. Check this out of the library first before shelling out money. I'm glad I did.
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