I had a couple of thoughts while reading Grind Joint which I’ll try to link together (probably poorly so be warned). The Friends of Eddie Coyle is highly regarded as one of the best crime novels ever (the movie is a classic too) but Higgins’s fiction has seemed to have fallen out of favor some. Writers now aren’t talking about his work in the same way that they talk about others. Also a certain kind of crime fiction seems to have fallen out of favor too; fiction with a bigger cast of characters on both side of the law, usually has some mob focus (think Higgins, think Dead City by Shane Stevens). In fact, a well known publisher has “Books about organized crime aren’t our thing.” in their submission guidelines. It seems like there are a couple of writers that are influenced by Higgins and have written or are writing these types of books. Grind Joint is one of them. Grind Joint has cops, small town mobsters, a PI, an old spook, and many others. We see all of these characters deal with a murder case, turf wars, political machinations, home invasions and so much more. King has said that he’s been influenced by The Wire (itself a visual fiction of the type talked about above), and it shows.
Really enjoyed this book. Dana writes about the dark side of small town Pennsylvania as well as I've ever read. I can see this novel set in Wilkes-Barre, or Scranton, or some places in Carbon County, all with the background in steel or coal and implicit in nepotism, vice and small town criminals that watch too much of The Wire or The Sopranos. Note only is he dead-on with his descriptions but the last names of the characters are dead-on as well (one is nicknamed Alphabet because of the seemingly improbably string of vowels and consonants that make up his name but is totally common in the area I grew up in in NEPA.)
For some reason, though, I keep picturing Mike The Hook as related to Feet in James Lee Burke's In The Electric Mist With The Confederate Dead. And I seem them both looking like Tony Siragusa.
For good Pennsylvania crime fiction, check out Dana's books.
Ben Dougherty and Willie Grabak had seen more than their share of Penn River corpses. Donte Broaddus had the misfortune to turn up dead with two bullet holes over his eyes, on a trash heap behind the Allegheny Casino. Russian mobsters waded in and began throwing tough boy orders around, sharks circling, ready to gobble down any small whirlpool shiners. Variables surfaced rapidly. The gang squad reported a peaceful day but Donte had been selling H, and he stepped on the wrong toes, OG ride, or not. Just when one thinks it might be safe to move to the suburbs, a novel appears that slices open the underbelly seedy side to reveal the stagnation and degradation of humanity, the total disintegration of anything resembling morality. No holds are barred. Cringe, then drink from the rusty tap water of life. Should they continue the charade, shake murderers hands, or arrest with the aim to kill? Thanks, Dana King.
Oh, yeah! I've read a few Dana King novels now and each one is golden. They start as they mean to go on, with plenty of action, great characters, and keeping the reader guessing. All the top stuff! I was lucky enough to get quite a few of Dana King novels for free (why do these top notch authors give their work away for free? As soon as you read his work, you'll be hooked too! Maybe that is why...) In this novel, police detective 'Doc' Dougherty and his cousin, PI Nick Fuorte (hope I spelt that correctly!) go up against the town's money men & movers and shakers who wish to open a casino in the town of Penns River, plus Doc has to tangle with the partner in all of this, a shady Russian gangster and his spoilt psychotic son, who makes the kind of baddie we all love to hate. It is a police procedural in a way, if you like police procedurals where the police throw the procedures out the window...
Realistic dialogues between believable characters for the most part. Stereotyping of the Russian mobster Yuri was the exception. Small town politics at their worst. Impressive action finale. It left you wanting to read the next installment.
This is the second book in the series and I can hardly wait for another. Worst Enemies was the first book and then I read this and it was very good. Ben "Doc" Dougherty is a detective at Penns River and is a bit unorthodox. I love the way he thinks and am looking forward to more books in the series. Wish they could keep he and his cousin in the same town because they work so well together. Please continue the series, I love them all.
Grind Joint is the best crime novel I've read in some time. Lean and gripping, with a palpable sense of place and great interaction between characters, both major and minor. King is in a very select group of authors when it comes to dialogue--not only in the crime field, but across the genre spectrum.
Dana King....a writer that has been around for awhile and deserves some recognition.....Grind Joint is a great story based in a fictional Pennsylvanian town with some real fugazy characters and interesting story lines! Wonderful read!!!!!
Others in the comments have addressed how this a thrilling, fast-paced book that's hard to put down. That's all true enough, but what I wanted to point out is King's incredible eye for detail, about how things work and why.
You may read this book for the pleasures of a mystery, but working under this it operates almost as an anthropological study of a west Pennsylvania mill town in decline. I hope that doesn't make it sound boring, because I mean the opposite. With just a few lines of naturalistic dialogue, with a passing comment about traffic patterns, an offhand line about a streetscape, a short sketch of the relationship between a politician and a mobster, King deftly builds up a thick description of Penns River, a stand-in for any number of actual towns far enough from Pittsburgh not to be suburbs, but close enough to still be in its orbit.
I highly recommend this not only for its considerable virtues as hard-boiled detective novel, but even more so for its nuanced observations of the decaying industrial small towns where many Americans live.