Drear but gripping wade through dire nights in Harlem.
Edwards abandons her series featuring ex-cop Mali Anderson (Do or Die, 2000, etc.) for a dark-charcoal tale that lets her dig her arms into the 1970s, a time before Anderson’s tour of duty. All told, The Viaduct is a success, but many will flinch at its depressing contents and lowlife characters. Vietnam vet Marin Taylor loses his job when the print shop where he works closes. On his way home with four weeks’ severance pay, he stops at a bar, worries how his very pregnant wife Margaret will take this news of his shift to unemployment insurance. Crossing the ten-story-high Harlem viaduct, he’s mugged by brothers Conroy and Tito Henderson. He tosses Tito to his death over the low rail but is stabbed twice by Conroy, who escapes with the vet’s wallet. This incident prompts traumatic memories of a tragic event during Marin’s stint in Vietnam; its piecemeal revelation throughout the novel adds to suspense but doesn’t pay off as richly as it might have had Edwards pushed more deeply into its horror. Smarting for revenge, Conroy has his dimwit girlfriend Sadie steal Margaret’s baby the day after her delivery. Meanwhile, Conroy goes into hiding, and his mother must hit up vicious loan shark Savoy for money to bury Tito. Readers will relish the many beatings thuggish Conroy takes during the story; for this creep, crime doesn’t pay awfully well, not even a faulty kidnapping that has Savoy fearing a federal rap and ready to crush Conroy if he doesn’t quickly pay off Mama’s loan and mounting interest. Brainless Conroy can’t even put his ransom scheme in motion, since Sadie has run off with the baby. Much of the story feels like a nighttime slog through rain-drenched streets reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s The Devils, although its bottom-feeder dialogue occasionally sounds thin.
Still, freed from some strictures of crime fiction, Edwards produces her darkest, most compelling work.