Brighton: A Novel - Michael Harvey

“At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin & by illusion, a point of pure truth….”

 

By the time Bobby Scales quotes Thomas Merton, you already know he’s not your garden variety thug. But then he never really had a chance to be anything else.

 

The book opens in 1970’s Brighton, a tough suburb of Boston where dreams of a better life tend to die young. Bobby was on his own by the time he hit high school. The closest thing he has to family is Mary Burke, a strong no-nonsense woman who runs a cab company. She looks out for him while keeping an eye on her grandson Kevin Pearce. Mary senses he’s special & vows he’ll make it out of Brighton. But first he’ll have to survive growing up in a house ruled by his drunk, abusive father.

 

By 1975, Bobby & Kevin are inseparable. Times are tough but they have Mary, baseball & each other. Then the unthinkable happens. One night Kevin arrives at his grandmother’s in time to see a young black man run from the building. After racing inside, the first thing he finds is one of his sisters bleeding from stab wounds. The second is Mary’s body. He can’t know it yet but the fallout from this senseless act will define his life for years to come.

 

Fast forward to 2002. Kevin left Brighton in 1975 & never looked back. He’s now an investigative reporter for The Globe & just won a Pulitzer for his series of articles about a black man wrongly accused of murder who was killed in prison. Add to that his relationship with Suffolk County prosecutor Lisa Mignot & life is good. Hold that thought, Kev.

 

Lisa’s office is called in after 2 women are killed in Brighton & she thinks they’re tied to the unsolved murder of a young black man in 1975. When Kevin sneaks a look at the files, his blood runs cold & he knows it’s time…..time to go home & pay his debt to Bobby.

 

Put the kettle on, curl up in your favourite reading spot & turn off the phone because once you crack the cover on this one, you’ll be ticked if you have to put it down. What follows is a complex & heart wrenching story of friendship, loyalty, betrayal & redemption. The author uses the first section to build the history of Kevin & Bobby’s friendship, ensuring that readers become invested. Brighton itself is a major character, so well rendered through descriptions of seedy streets, crowded apartments & hopeless lives that the grit sticks to you fingers.

 

But it’s only as action switches to the present that we learn the truth of everything that happened in the past. And holy crap, are there some shockers lurking in the pages. When Kevin begins his own investigation, his intention is to stay one step ahead of the law & protect Bobby. What he eventually uncovers will rewrite his childhood memories & strip the veneer off the life he’s created.

 

These characters don’t just appear on the page. They come out swinging, shouting & scheming. There are no stick people here. Each is a combination of good & bad, capable of great love & thoughtless violence. Part of the rising tension is due to not knowing who can be trusted when push comes to shove. And while you may dislike some of them, you can also understand how they became who they are. Although it’s ostensibly Kevin’s story, Bobby is the one that stuck with me. He’s a man who never caught a break but will go down fighting to protect a friend or keep a promise.

 

This is a dark & compelling story that will have you holding your breath in the final chapters. It definitely reminded me of books by Dennis Lehane (especially “Mystic River”) & Greg Iles, 2 authors who excel at creating stories that are richly atmospheric. This is the first I’ve read from Mr. Harvey. Guess my groaning TBR pile just got taller.