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Friday, February 19, 2016

Night Life by David C. Taylor

Forge Books, 336 pages, $25.99 (c2015)

Well, “Night Life” was unexpected! This current nominee for the Edgar Award for Best Novel started out with a 1950s noirish tone with crooked cops, beautiful dames, and mobsters, and ended up amid the topics du jour of the 1950s: Communism and the Cold War.

Michael Cassidy is a police detective in New York City. He and his partner, Orso, are probably two of the least bendable cops in town, but they know how the game is played. There’s a lot of leeway for cop behavior. Even so, Cassidy is in trouble, but not in a bureaucratic way, when he tosses a fellow cop out a window for being an abusive jackass. Although this story haunts the rest of the book, it is not the main one. But it does show what Cassidy is willing to do.

Cassidy comes from an unexpected background. His father is a Broadway impressario. His mother was a socialite who killed herself. His sister and brother are very different than he, but there is a strong sibling bond among them. And a family friend is one of the deadliest mobsters in town. After World War II, Cassidy found himself at loose ends and without ambition. He certainly had no desire to enter his father’s show biz world. Cop work seemed to suit him.

When a handsome young man is tortured and murdered, Cassidy and Orso catch the case. The secret the man was holding was dangerous enough that people and agencies of all sorts are clambering for it. Even if it weren’t necessary for Cassidy to use information about the man to bargain his father out of prison, he probably would have been stubborn about dogging the case just because of all the interest.

Yes, Cassidy’s father has fallen victim to the Joe McCarthy Communist hunt. Although Tom Cassidy is not a Communist, he has the misfortune of having been born in Russia, and that is all that counts to besmirch his name. Plus, Cassidy has run afoul of the odious Roy Cohn, a McCarthy acolyte. 

David C. Taylor does a masterful job of tying all his stories together. His characters, real and fictional, are tough and reflect the post-war disaffection and anxiety of the 50s.  From automats to Toots Shor’s legendary watering hole, Taylor also gives a detailed, fascinating look at NYC in the 50s. “Night Life” is intriguing, fast-moving, and a reminder of how nasty power trips can be. 

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