William Landay's sophomore effort is a somewhat different work ---
both structurally and topically --- from MISSION FLATS. But his
stellar craftsmanship shines through; if anything, THE STRANGLER
surpasses its predecessor.
Though a work of fiction, THE STRANGLER is set in the real world of
1963. The nation is reeling from the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy; for Boston, it is a devastating blow, as the city
is already traumatized by a series of rapes and murders committed
by a fiend whom the press has dubbed "The Boston Strangler."
Landay's novel, however, does not concern itself primarily with
those horrific crimes. Rather, the story belongs to the Daley
brothers, three different siblings who will touch and be touched by
the investigation directly and indirectly.
Michael is an assistant with the Attorney General's office ---
content with handling eminent domain cases that are beneath him
intellectually --- when he is assigned to a special task force
investigating the killings. Joe, following in the footsteps of his
late father, is a policeman, but his corruption is such that he
cannot appreciate fully the irony of the situation into which he is
inexorably sliding. Ricky is an unapologetic burglar, yet it is he
who is perhaps the most honest, caring and consistently upright of
Surprisingly, it is Ricky who holds the key not only to their
father's mysterious death in the line of duty but also to the
identity of the Boston Strangler. Yet it is Joe, ethically and
morally compromised as the result of his own actions, who is
closest to the corruption within Boston and to the crime that
haunts the brothers most deeply. Michael --- plagued by migraine
headaches and an ambiguous sexuality --- is perhaps the most
enigmatic, the weakest of the three, and yet fate will leave it to
him to execute a rough and final justice for the offenses visited
against the family and the city where they live.
Landay's narrative is at once compelling and propelling. His story
moves not so much as a streamlined dialogue but as a series of
extended vignettes alternating back and forth among the brothers,
highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. Early in the book, a
basketball game involving the three of them is a metaphor not only
of their lives but also for what will occur later. Landay's eerie
coda to the events brings the subtle uneasiness of the narrative
into sharp focus; what resolution the Daleys brought is at best
temporary and at worst illusory.
The result is a brilliantly told story, haunting in its totality.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that THE STRANGLER may
well be the crime novel of the year. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011