It has not taken long for Daniel Judson to shoulder his way onto
my list of must-read authors. His novels, of which THE VIOLET HOUR
is the fifth, are set in the Hamptons, an area of New York’s
Long Island. The term conjures up the image of a high-end
playground and seasonal resort for the rich and famous, a place
where a different set of rules applies. Indeed, Judson’s
books are populated with shadowy figures who are above the law and
a sharply defined underclass caught within machinations above and
beyond their control, causing forces to collide. And there are
collisions aplenty in THE VIOLET HOUR as it is played out over
three significant days and evenings as October gives way to
November on the rural backroads of Bridgehampton Village.
The unlikely protagonist is a 22-year-old auto mechanic named
Caleb Rakowski, the sole survivor of a family of minor league
criminals. Rakowski, trying not to follow in the footsteps of his
late --- and notorious --- father and brother, has been spending
his days working at an anonymous auto repair and body shop run by
his high-rolling friend, Eric Carver, his nights living in an
off-the-books apartment above the shop, and his weekends on an
occasional drinking and wenching expedition with his co-worker,
Lebell. However, things start to change when Rakowski provides
shelter to his friend Heather, who is pregnant and on the run from
her powerful and extremely abusive husband.
Meanwhile, Lebell’s past begins to catch up with him in
the form of an incredibly dangerous and deadly woman named
Evangeline Amendora. Schooled in the arts of torture and murder,
Amendora is the single-minded tool of an organized crime figure who
has been tracking Lebell with revenge on his mind. Rakowski finds
himself unexpectedly caught between Lebell and Amendora, even as
Heather’s half-sister Amanda reappears. Amanda has taken
several wrong turns, but her sudden reentrance into Heather’s
life is no accident as Rakowski discovers when he goes to a
high-end Halloween party to retrieve her.
As a result of his loyalty to his friends, Rakowski soon finds
that he is caught between not one but two major conflicts, both of
which threaten to destroy the quiet, below-the-radar existence he
has fashioned for himself. Outclassed in every way imaginable, his
few assets include an uncanny ability to visualize the manner in
which things fit together --- mechanically and otherwise --- and
the streetwise advice of his deceased father, which is valuable on
both sides of the law. In the short course of a few days, a major
bloodbath will be set loose in the Hamptons, and Rakowski will be
in the middle of it as a group of powerful figures discovers the
danger of pushing a good man too far.
While familiar themes weave into and through all of
Judson’s novels, he has continued to find and present new
ways of exploring them so that surprises abound from page to page.
This is especially true in THE VIOLET HOUR, which features a number
of plot and character twists, both major and minor, that leave the
reader unsettled and uncertain of preconceptions formed during the
course of the book. And if that is not enough for you, included is
an ending that is as haunting as anything you will read this year.
Judson, already critically acclaimed, may well find the commercial
success he deserves with THE VIOLET HOUR.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011