It would seem Niagara Falls would be an ideal, and constant, setting of crime fiction. History, immigration, territorial grabs, the machinations of the hydroelectric business, the occasional body going over the waterfall, as well as the usual urban tales of cruelty, are topics that could put Niagara Falls up there with gritty New York and gritty Los Angeles and gritty Chicago as gritty settings.
Enter local writer Christy Laughing with her privately published (and available, as books are these days, through Amazon and other online outlets) with “Closer Than a Brother,” a complicated tale of a Niagara Falls police office unraveling an incident involving gas line explosions, undercover work, the search for a mysterious overlord of the city’s drug trade and a personal love/hate dimension that passes for Lt. Kevin Larson’s neurosis (true to the genre, the protagonist is a good guy with an eccentricity both crippling and beneficial)
The plot is an involved one. Somehow it requires the reader to closely follow every paragraph on every page. Not a bit of fluff here, and that’s a high-degree compliment to the author. She’s been studying Raymond Chandler, I suspect, another writer who can toss a crucial clue into a casual conversation or observation, and it repays the reader, pages later, if he or she caught it.
Thus is tipping off the story a dangerous thing to do. Suffice that Laughing expertly handles the intertwining of characters and their motivations. Detective fiction typically requires not only a plot — good guys versus bad guys and a lot of people in between — but a lot of explanation of characters’’ impetus. This book has plenty of both.
This reviewer expected a simpler story from a first-time novelist. Fortunately, he did not get it. He also hoped for more local detail than place names he recognized; there are references to the Falls and to Ransomville, but the feel of the city could have been better described. After a while, the adventure could have been conducted in any city in America.
Granted, it’s a novel, not a screenplay, but Niagara Falls has the noir chops to be the setting for the duplicity, distrust and lying that make this genre so durable. It is not a picture the chamber of commerce would promote, but Laughing sets the scenes admirably, and propels the plot efficiently.
“Closer than a Brother” is largely about loyalty, again, a familiar trope in detective writing. It is an admirable first shot in what is evidently a proposed series of books set here. It can be assumed a lot more goes on in a border town than the intricate story described here, and it is hoped the author can use Niagara Falls as a palette of all sorts of nasty stuff. As such, though, it is a well-written example of the genre.
Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident and can be contacted at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.
• WHAT: "Closer Than a Brother"
• BY: Kristy Laughing
• GRADE: B