A low-key tale of street-level radicalism that melds contemporary social consciousness with middle-age introspection.
After his impoverished father survives a debilitating stroke, Nick, a 40-something former journalist, returns home to Boston from California and wallows in inertia. When not negotiating the grim surrealism of his father’s condition, Nick mitigates the fallout of his stalled career and failed marriage by watching old movies, getting soused in bars and moshing at all-ages punk shows with Bo, the spunky teenage son of his old pal Lin, a nurse. A politically charged workers’ strike seems to set off a chain of criminal events—a brutal home invasion, beatings, suspicious accidents, escalating Occupy-style protests, and other messier, increasingly violent acts. Nick finds himself in the thick of it. But is it all really connected? And who should be held accountable: the greedy corporate concerns, the strikers and their union, or the fringe activist groups that flock to the escalating conflict? Nick revives his rusty investigative skills in search of answers, eventually rebooting both his career and self-esteem. But, as the tension mounts, he questions his own ethical stance at every turn: “I don’t trust certainty,” he says. “Too much ugly shit happens in its name.” This self-deprecating, often funny first-person account of an increasingly dangerous adventure is provocative and utterly believable; to the author’s credit—despite all the references to the Dropkick Murphys and other local color—Nick never succumbs to the tiresome classist romanticism that usually colors Boston-based thrillers. By its end, the story is much more complex—and banal—than it first seemed, with Nick’s own noirish moral relativism at the heart. The almost upbeat ending (a second chance for a slightly disenchanted young activist, a possible romance for the now slightly less jaded newspaperman) will satisfy readers who prefer their mysteries finely constructed—though in light of the novel’s overall realism, that conclusion can feel a bit contrived.
A post–baby-boomer thriller ripped from the headlines, with a minimum of liberal hand-wringing; bonus points for cops without stereotypical accents.