Shutter Man by Richard Montanari

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Shutter Man by Richard Montanari is another offering of tough crime fiction that proves once again why Montanari is hands above the rest. Like the earlier novels Dennis Lehane, Montanari’s grasp of crime procedure and the ins and outs of how a small time crime family can hold a neighborhood in its grasp; strangling all the life and hope out of it makes for some of the most intense and thrilling reading to be found in this genre. In Byrne and Balzano, he has created to of the more credible and enjoyable characters to be read.

“…It is called Devil’s Pocket.
On listless July days, when the sun radiated off the colorless wooden houses and glinted off the windshields of the rusting cars that lined Christian Street, women in the Pocket wore sleeveless cotton sundresses, often with lace handkerchiefs tucked into their bra straps at the shoulder. The men wore Dickies work pants, white T-shirts, packs of Kools or Camels crafting square bulges in the front, their Red Wing boots and trouser cuffs sifted with dust from the brickyards.
The bars, of which there were a half-dozen in as many blocks, served well whiskeys and national brands on tap. On Fridays all year, not just during Lent, there were fish fries. On Sundays there were potluck dinners.
The prevailing theory on how the neighborhood got its name was that sometime in the 1930s, a parish priest said the kids there were so bad they would ‘steal the chain out of the devil’s pocket.’
To the four boys sitting on the bench across from the man in the white suit-Jimmy Doyle, Ronan Kittredge, Dave Carmody and Kevin Byrne-the Pocket was their domain.
Years later, if asked, the boys would recall this moment, this unspoiled tableau of summer, as the moment the darkness began to fall…”

The Farren crime family held power over the Devil’s Pocket and surrounding area. But the eldest son Desmond had not been born right. Staring at little Catriona Daugherty, his mind was filled with impure thoughts and when the child is found dead, all thoughts point to Desmond but he is one of the Farrens so no one does anything. Until someone does and Desmond is found dead.

Years have past, and young Kevin Byrne has become Detective Kevin Byrne. A family has been killed, tied to chairs in their homes and shot through the heart, except for one. The mother, she is not only shot but someone has taken a blade and pealed her face off. Other murders begin to accumulate and Byrne is struggling to find a connection between them all.

For the Farrens, they have fallen on difficult times since the loss of Desmond. The leaders of the family has been imprisoned as the neighborhood no longer fears them as they once did. Michael Anthony Farren was what remained of the powerful crime family. He was a killer who thought of himself as Billy the Wolf. But Billy has a strange disability. A disease that prevents him from recognizing faces. He carries photographs in his pocket to remind him of his next victim.

Soon, Billy the Wolf and Detective Byrne will be on a collision course as the past crimes of the Devil’s Pocket comes to light and both have secrets to hold on to.

Montanari writes powerful, gritty tales of crime and murder. He does not pretty them up or give them any sense of noble purpose. No they are dark and bloody and stink of injustice. In Billy the Wolf he has created a killer whose sole purpose is to hunt and kill. Any thought of any other life is gone when he has a target. The Farrens are a crime family that enjoy their power and the realization that is slipping away fills them with a powerful mix of horror and fear. Desperation fills them as they search for whatever means necessary to hold on to their mystique. Detective Byrne is a good man drawn to right the wrongs that he faces. Though he knows that he has not always been on the right side of many things. He has an irrational childhood fear of the Farrens and what they once were but now must face off against the worst of them.

Montanari also creates incredibly well rounded secondary characters whose value to the tale goes far beyond window dressing. They have their own tale to tell and it adds to the color and plot of the main story. This is absolutely one of his strengths. Byrne’s old partner, Jessica Balzano is an Assistant District Attorney now and the constant work between the two is missed but she is still a force to be reckoned with.

The past and deaths of Desmond Farren and Catriona Daugherty come back to haunt in this story and Montanari does a terrific job of weaving them all together to make one terrific story.

A really good read.

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