In their third installment of the Midtown Blue series and their best book to date, the husband and wife team of F. P. Lione (Frank and Pam) offer an absorbing look at the New York Police Department while continuing the story of Tony Cavalucci and his new walk of faith.
Cavalucci, a recovering alcoholic, is still on the wagon, although his dysfunctional family and the party-hard group of cops he works with make it difficult. He and his fiancée, Michele, are building a new house together and trying to work out the snags in their relationship before the wedding. Michele and Tony are waiting to have sex until they tie the knot, but Tony is impatient and turns on the pressure. However, Michele is a single mother who knows the price of impatience. Their relationship is well-developed by the Liones in this installment.
But most of the book is devoted to Tony’s life on the job. His time with his partner, the scripture-quoting Joe Fiore, is slowly changing Tony for the better, and he’s on a more even keel --- spiritually, emotionally and physically. (When he first met Joe, Tony had been “flirting with the idea of eating my gun.”) But Cavalucci’s hard-drinking Italian family sees Joe as a threat; he’s the reason Tony is going to a different church, is marrying a woman they don’t approve of (a single mom with a young son), and has quit drinking. His father’s venomous second wife seems poised to wreak new havoc on the family, and Tony is concerned about his sister Denise dating a police officer Tony knows only too well.
As Tony tries to get along with his family and seeks to understand what his father’s problems are, he discovers a secret from his father’s past that helps him understand what has made him the difficult man he is today. He also battles his grandmother’s superstitions, which the Liones flesh out with some nice details.
The “skells” of New York City -–- the drug addicts, bag ladies, prostitutes, the homeless –-- keep Tony and his department busy in this installment. Cavalucci used to look at them as the dregs of society, but recently “they just look lost and wounded to me.” Part of this is Joe’s influence; Joe tells him, “If you get down deeper into a person, you’ll see there’s a reason…Nobody wants to be a drunk or a crackhead –-- they’re struggling, just like you were struggling.”
There are some memorable encounters, including a fairly violent rape scene and a domestic abuse situation, as well as some unusual offbeat calls that are by turns funny and sad. The Liones show how police officers are always just a step away from a lawsuit, even when they are only trying to come to the assistance of someone in trouble.
If you haven’t read the first and second books in the series, THE DEUCE and THE CROSSROADS, you’ll want to go back and read them in order. Although the first two are highly enjoyable, SKELLS is the Liones at their best. They’ve smoothed out some of the rough spots in the first two novels and strike just the right balance of faith and the gritty work of Manhattan’s finest police officers. There’s plenty of character development, mouth-watering food details, and interesting inside information on law enforcement to keep the pages turning. Fans of the series will not be disappointed.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on June 1, 2006
Skells: Midtown Blue Series #3