Envy the Night
Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur
US Hardback First
Publication Date: August 5, 2008
288 Pages; $24.95
Date Reviewed: November 12, 2008
It's a classic theme of many a noir novel — the sins of the father live on in their sons to reach out tendrils that set off a series of events that are inevitably doomed to disappointment, utter failure, or even death. Michael Koryta, in his first stand-alone after the well-received 3-book Lincoln Perry detective series, weaves all these elements in a powerful, deeply absorbing tale of fathers and sons, sin and retribution, bad endings and new beginnings.
Franklin Temple was a US Marshall and secret killer-for-hire who opted to commit suicide rather than face public censure and a life in prison. His son, Franklin Temple III, has spent the last 7 years trying to reconcile the reality of his father's past deeds with his memories of a warm and loving childhood. Franklin believes that Devin Matteson, the man who turned in his father to save himself, is still alive and well in Florida. For Franklin, this is a gnawing piece of unfinished business. When he learns from an old friend of his father that the turncoat Devin is soon to return to the family cabin in the woods of Wisconsin, he immediately sets off in pursuit with every intention of putting the past to rest with a cold-blooded revenge killing. And Franklin III will be well able to pull off such a killing, for his father taught him all the tricks of the trade from a very young age.
With such a set-up, it's not surprising that what follows is a tightly plotted, tense and action-packed narrative. Koryta develops a strong and fully believable cast of characters. Nora Stafford, the daughter of a local car repair shop owner trying desperately to keep her father's business afloat, is a helpmate and inadvertent sidekick, whose actions and reactions are both believable and, often, admirably strong. Ezra Ballard, the old family friend, is one of those self-contained mountain-men types, wily, cunning, violent when required, but ultimately honorable and exceptionally loyal. The villains are basic low-level thugs who make up for their lack of smarts by being particularly — and cruelly — violent. Add a few FBI agents to this mix of characters, and Koryta has all the pieces he needs for excellent revenge narrative.
The action sequences, and there are many, are detailed and rivetingly tense; the violence is disturbing in its intensity, but believable and situationally warranted. Koryta's pacing is pedal-to-the-metal, his dialogue borders on Leonardesque, the plotting is twisty-turning, and the result is simply strong, commanding storytelling by an author who just keeps getting better with each book. Fortunately for all his readers, Koryta's only in his mid-20's and seems able to turn out a terrific novel every year. We have a lot to look forward to.