"A beautiful, tragic glimpse into isolation, family and coming of age."– Kirkus Reviews
A brilliant chemistry student is rescued from a criminal life by her professor in Reeves’ (Bada Bing in Brooklyn, 2012, etc.) gritty thriller sequel.
Twenty-something Candy Dyer manages to ace her tests by day while dealing drugs to her fellow students at night. But when she tries to give up her criminal ways, her two business partners feel betrayed, so they sear and deform the left side of her face with a hot iron. Candy’s chemistry professor, Richard Bucceroni, rescues her, and she soon embarks on a tenure-track academic chemistry career at Urban University in Brooklyn, New York. Meanwhile, she seeks revenge on her attackers, tries to sort out her complicated feelings toward Bucceroni, and investigates various murders of faculty members at the college. Along the way, Candy, Bucceroni, and Detective Dom Mancini of the New York City Police Department dodge bullets and knives while also navigating a cutthroat university culture. Bucceroni coaches Candy on the importance of surviving appointment committees and on the internal back-stabbing and back-scratching of academia, such as when Bucceroni advances an untalented professor in order to secure Candy a tenure recommendation. These scenes depict a passive-aggressive version of the real gangland wars that plague Urban U, as students self-segregate by race and battle over turf, even during final exams. This odd noir thriller is part Breaking Bad, part The Big Heat, with a touch of Bridget Jones’s Diary in the mix (although Candy is more worldly, incisive, and violent than Bridget ever was). It’s absurdist and cynical—and it works. Reeves nails the hard-boiled narrative tone by giving Candy an insightful, even winsome tenderness coupled with a sharp, dry wit that’s often delightful. At times, the narration unnecessarily repeats earlier plot points, and there are pages of unattributed dialogue that may confuse some readers. Overall, however, this is a very strong effort that’s fun, touching, and disquieting by turns.
A verbose but engaging crime tale.
An aging New Yorker reflects on his childhood growing up on a Canadian island in novelist Reeves’ (Bada Bing in Brooklyn, 2012, etc.) linked story collection.
Once a sparsely populated area given to wildlife, Manitoulin Island is now primarily a retreat for Midwestern tourists with little appreciation for its history. At least, that’s true according to Jim, a professor in Brooklyn who spent much of his childhood there. In the late 1950s, he and his parents moved to the island from Indiana in search of simplicity, renting out rooms in their cabin for cash. As an adult, Jim visits the island often, both in person and in memory, haunted by the joyful yet trying years he contended with his increasingly alcoholic father and aided his mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. But none of this is explained directly. Details are gradually revealed in nine candid stories, united by their lack of details (Jim is usually referred to only as “the man” or “professor”), the family’s golden retrievers, various objects (e.g., cigars and Kohl binoculars) and a structural formula that typically finds Jim in a present-day scenario conveniently similar to one from his boyhood. Warning a tourist about yellow jackets reminds him of when a customer entered a wasp-infested outhouse. Observing a potential suicide on the George Washington Bridge, he recalls helping his father retrieve a drowned corpse. In an uncharacteristic move, Jim unleashes snakes in a lodge as vindication against the owner, whose mother once stood his up at a lunch gathering. And in the pinnacle story, “Dire Straits,” young Jim secretly purchases a ferry ride to shorten a family trip that results in tragedy. Reeves delivers each tale in relentlessly spare prose that evokes Hemingway’s; often, however, he omits just enough detail to stir frustration. Likewise, sarcastic Jim is always wiser than those around him, and though he finds connections to strangers, he withholds information to avoid interaction. In “The Hoax,” for instance, Jim sips beer in a Manhattan bar where fellow drinkers ask whether he’s heard of their hometown, Muncie, Ind. “ ‘No,’ said the professor, whose parents graduated from Muncie Central High School.” And while Reeves proves himself adept at transitioning back and forth in time, the conceit becomes tiring and ostentatious. Still, his prose is sharp and subtle, his eye attuned to human frailty and offbeat humor.
A beautiful, tragic glimpse into isolation, family and coming of age.
In this debut thriller, Reeves’ Brooklyn is a dark, desperate world populated by gangs, lechers, bums, addicts and murderers.
Richie Bucceroni is not your typical aging Italian from Brooklyn. He is a professor of chemistry at a Brooklyn college and an expert on the sometimes deadly effects of chemicals and drugs. When a student is found murdered with a sickly smile on his face, Richie knows it may be the result of ingesting brucine—a chemical that was recently the topic of one of his student lectures. Realizing that someone has broken into his chemical locker, Richie turns to his childhood friend detective Dominick Mancini to help solve the case. The problem is, people keep turning up dead: first a fellow professor and then the owner of the local liquor store. When Richie narrowly avoids catching a bullet himself, he realizes that he’s now the killer’s target. The only other person Richie can trust is his laboratory assistant, Candy, who teams up with him to help identify and track the murderer. Reeves’ Brooklyn is not pretty: Richie witnesses several instances of street violence, and his students, who “could not really read, write or figure at any acceptable grade level,” are seemingly all involved in gangs and drugs. The borough of Brooklyn figures so prominently that it almost becomes a character itself and provides a vivid, if desolate, sense of place. In this world of violence and apathy, it’s understandable that Richie only trusts two people. He uses humor to offset the bleak environment, and while it can be heavy-handed and repetitious (he jokes several times about the smell of a set of workout clothes), Richie is an affably self-effacing protagonist. But even the most desensitized readers may be offended by Richie’s and Mancini’s racist and sexist remarks. The ending is left wide open for a sequel, and those who don’t mind a little grit and gloom will likely want to spend more time with the sardonic chemistry professor.
Reeves’ tenebrous world should appeal to ardent fans of hard-boiled fiction.