>TOWER — by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman (Book Review)

>Tower (Busted Flush Press, 2009) is a story that caught me unaware. At the time I read it, I knew of the collaborating writers — multi-award winners Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman — but I had not read any of their work. As a result I had no expectations, but I was still taken by surprise by the emotional depth of this powerful little book. It’s not just a guns-blazing crime book; it’s that and much more.

Tower is the story of two friends, Nick and Todd. At its root is an examination of the bonds of friendship, loyalty, and trust, with a healthy does of love and loss to further muck things up. The two men grow up together on the streets of New York City (almost a character itself), where, for poor kids of questionable education, working for the local low rent crime boss may seem like the only way to earn any kind of meaningful living. The boys make their choices, and then try to live with them. What I enjoyed is the way these authors chose to collaborate. Each of them takes a character and we see their experiences framed by the writer’s voice, an interesting, and effective, technique.

Nick, the Irish-American kid with an abusive father who drinks too much, is handled by Bruen, while Todd, the boy from a home where the father never got over the mother’s suicide, is written by Coleman. The significantly different writing styles of each author lends a legitimacy to the story, because we see each perspective as truly different in every sense of the word. Certain events are viewed from the lense of each character, which makes for interesting reading.

Both men start down similar paths working for Boyle and Griffin, the local wiseguys, but their paths separate when Todd, unknown to Nick, is recruited by the cops to become an undercover agent for them. We see the troubles they face, their struggles with love and loss, and their inability to deal with both; Nick remains in New York City, while Todd faces hardships in Philly and Boston before returning home an undercover policeman charged with bringing down Nick’s boss. Each struggles to learn who they really are, and seek redemption almost in spite of themselves. Somehow, through it all, they remain loyal to one another while facing terrible choices each has to make regarding the other.

This isn’t a happy book, though it is fun in moments. Both writers bring a biting humor to their writing, and it pops up in almost inappropriate places. The authors do an excellent job of making us care for the characters, even secondary players that are on stage only briefly, but still make us care about the demons they face and what happens to them. There is a lot of pathos packed into this slim little book, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I was a little disappointed by the ending, but to say why would spoil the book. It is probably just me, because the end totally works . . . I just didn’t care for it. Even so, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a dark story with rich characters packed into a quick read that barely lets you take a breath, delivered in unique fashion by two excellent writers.

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