Sunday, 10 June 2007

The Strangler by William Landay

The Strangler
William Landay
Bantam Press

IT'S getting big play in Boston, and, strangely, in France, but The Strangler is proving a sleeper here.

The successor to William Landay's record-breaking debut, Mission Flats, this whodunnit moves around the Boston Strangler killings, and is shadowed by the Kennedy assassinations.

The intro quotes a 1962 magazine ad: "Fostered by the unmatched universities here, hundreds of research-based industries have sprung up on all sides..."

Sound familiar?

As in Ireland today, the Boston of 1963 is a city whose prosperity is surfing precariously on a wave of construction.

The building industry has always been the dream business for corruption, the perfect place to launder money. The New Boston is gangland heaven, a tiger economy swollen by Italian mobsters.

In Landay's happy riff on the clich├ęs, the Daly family are caught in the backwash.

The three Daly boys are a triptych of Irish American stock characters: a cop, a gentleman burglar and a lawyer.

Their family is headed by the classic heavy-hipped Irish widow, her cop husband slain in hot pursuit.

Joe, her cop son, is played for a dumb Mick by the slick Italians. Ricky, the burglar, takes diamonds that prove hotter than he ever expected. Michael, the lawyer, follows his growing suspicions about his father's death.

Their investigations lead the family into the gut-ripping world of the Boston Strangler.

It's the kind of story that could be mushy in the wrong hands, but the immediacy of Landay's observation ("his hand wrung his cheek") slams you right up against the action. Superb.

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