Thursday, January 30, 2014

Runaway Town, by Jay Stringer

I’ve been a reader of Do Some Damage since its inception; there’s no finer writers’ collaborative blog to be found. I came across Jay Stringer there, and was shocked—shocked!—when he announced the next book in the Eoin Miller series (Lost City) has been released, as I had yet to get around to reading its predecessor, Runaway Town. I immediately bought a copy and bumped it to the head of my ever-burgeoning queue.

Good decision.

Runaway Town is a example of why, when done right, the PI story is the highest form of crime fiction. Miller isn’t a PI—It’s hard to say what he is exactly—but he fills that role in the story. He’s Roma—British gypsies—which makes him a bit of an outcast from the get-go. Used to be a cop, now is officially a “football coach” at a boys club run by the Gaines crime family as one of their many beards. He used to work for Channy Mann, the Gaines’s chief competition, until he killed Channy’s brother. (Which was when I realized Runaway Town was the second book in the series, so I’ll be looking for Old Gold, too.) Things are complicated.

They don’t get any better when Veronica Gaines, the head of the family, asks him to find a rapist who has been terrorizing immigrant girls who belong to a support group that is also a Gaines beard. The victimized girls are illegals, afraid to go to the police for fear of deportation. Meanwhile, Channy wants Miller to set up Veronica to be killed. Add some family issues and a political party with a virulent anti-immigrant position and Miller has his hands full.

So does Stringer, and he pulls it off marvelously. Runaway Town is that rare bit of fiction—any genre—that tries to be about more than one thing and succeeds. Miller deals with and examines issues of family, loyalty, and trying to do the right thing while struggling with what’s possible and practical. It’s a mess. Never so much the reader loses track, but plenty to keep one wondering how the hell Miller’s going to get out of this.

Miller is a fascinating protagonist. He’s flawed, fighting an addiction to painkillers he doesn’t want to acknowledge, and he’s in over his head. He had no desire to be a hero, and is as brave as he has to be, which turns out to be a considerably amount. The irony of his story is, once he has identified the rapist, he has to decide whether to call the police, turn him over to Gaines, or resolve the situation himself. His reflections are reminiscent of Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone: no matter what he does, he’s wrong on some level.

Runaway Town has a few endings. Not because Stringer plays tricks with the reader, trying to fool you into thinking, “ah, this is the one.” He’s wrapping up what are essentially three stories. Stay with him. He doesn’t cheat, but you also won’t see them ending quite as you expect. He creates satisfying resolutions and still leaves things open for the next book.

There are a lot of excellent writers and excellent books out there; readers should rejoice. Jay Stringer and Runaway Town are one of each, and the rejoicing can begin as soon as you start to read.

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