Title – The Poor Boy’s Game
Author – Dennis Tafoya
When US Marshal Frannie Mullen gets one of her best friends shot during a sting operation, her career is over. Still reeling from the loss, Frannie is trying to sort out her feelings for Wyatt, the reformed outlaw who loves her, and to support her newly-sober sister, Mae, as she struggles with the fallout of their unstable, violent childhood. The murder of her own mother at the hand of her father.
Their father Patrick Mullen is a thug, a vicious enforcer for a corrupt Philadelphia union, and when he escapes from prison, bodies of ex-rivals and witnesses begin piling up. Now Frannie is suspected as an accomplice in his escape and targeted by shadowy killers from the Philadelphia underworld, the US Marshals she used to serve with and the local police. Unsure who to trust, drawing on the skills she’s learned as a Marshal and her training as a boxer, Frannie is forced to fight to protect her shattered sister and Patrick’s pregnant girlfriend from the most dangerous criminal she’s ever faced—her own father.
This is Noir. This is what Noir is suppose to be. Not the Hollywood pretty boy in dark lighting Noir. This is dirty cold live in the shadows with disfunction every second of the day and how can you save those you love when you are barely able to hold yourself up Noir. How? With guts and a gun and more than a few scars. This is Noir and I freaking loved it.
Tafoya writes about the streets of Philiadelphia with grit and determination. His prose is direct and solid. No flash or overindulged prose to set the mood. This is Elmore Leanord and Cormac McCarthy territory. Tafoya may be new (three books to date that I know of) but he is staking his claim and growing.
“…That’s where the ghosts ought to be in this town. Not in the cemeteries, the tidy forests of marble and granite in Holy Cross and Laurel Hill, but on the street corners in Strawberry Mansion and Frankford and in front of the social clubs on North Broad and the Kensington bars with no names where the young men got heads full of Hennessy and cocaine and retired to the street to have their showdowns. Ben Franklin might be buried down on Arch street somewhere, but the restless dead, the young dead, the murdered ones whose rage and thwarted ambition would make for wrathful spirits, they were out in the empty prairies of Mutter street and Westmoreland and Somerset. There was no tour for that…”
Frannie Mullen is a deeply flawed character. Her traumatic childhood at the hands of her violently abusive father has left deep emotional crevises in her soul. More so because she knows she is way too much like him. The position with the US Marshals was all she had to show she wasn’t Patrick Mullen’s daughter and when she loses that she falls into a spiral of depression. But when Patrick escapes she knows she has to pull herself out of it. Because Patrick swore to kill everyone who had anything to do with putting him away and that included his two daughters. With the Marshals believing she had something to do with Patrick’s escape, her resources are limited to protect herself and her sister. But Frannie knows, the only way she is going to beat Patrick is to allow herself to become Patrick.
Tafoya allows Frannie to carry the novel, there is no prince to save the day. She has friends, and they help her, but in the end its Frannie making her way through the past and the present to secure the safety of whats left of her family.
A very well executed and strong read.