"Slipping Into Darkness"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky MAR 22, 2006)
Peter Blauner's Slipping into Darkness is a gritty and intense police procedural about a murder and its aftermath. When he was seventeen years old, Julian Vega was arrested, tried, and convicted for killing a beautiful pediatrician named Allison Wallis. After twenty years in prison, Julian has become a bitter and cynical man, having lost his naiveté along with his dream of going to college. His beloved father is gone and there are few people who care whether Julian lives or dies.
Suddenly, Julian's conviction is vacated and he is released from prison, but he can legally be rearrested and tried for the crime again. His nemesis is Manhattan Detective Francis X. Loughlin, the man who put Julian away. Francis needs, for his own peace of mind, to prove once and for all that Julian murdered Allison. However, is Francis seeing things the way they are or is he blinded by the need to be right? Ironically, the detective, who is nearing retirement, is suffering from an inherited eye disease that is literally robbing him of his ability to see clearly.
This is not a feel good story. Julian was deprived of everything--his family, friends, reputation, education, pride, and freedom. When he reenters society, he is completely lost. He has nowhere to go and no way to make a decent living, nor does he recognize a world that has changed radically in the last two decades. His plight is heartbreaking.
Francis, on the other hand, is a hard case. He has made mistakes in the past, but he is too macho to admit his errors. His fading vision makes him desperate to tie up all the loose ends of his last few cases before he can no longer do the job at all. When another young woman, similar in many ways to Allison Wallis, is found bludgeoned to death, Francis fears that Julian may have struck again.
Blauner depicts his characters with uncompromising honesty. Julian, who was once a straight arrow, is now tempted to break the law in order to survive. Why should he play by the rules when the rules have never been of any use to him? Francis is a showboat and a blowhard who is too self-involved to stand back and look at the facts objectively. Other memorable characters are Debbie Aaron, Julian's compassionate and aggressive attorney, Eileen Wallis, who was mentally unhinged by her daughter's death, and Patti, Francis's wife, who knows her husband better than he knows himself. They all try to cope with the unexpected obstacles that life throws in their paths.
The book's fairly predictable conclusion is not as strong as the rest of the story. Still, Slipping into Darkness is a compulsively readable and suspenseful mystery that will fray your nerve endings until you finally learn who really committed the crimes and why.
- Amazon readers rating: from 86 reviews
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"The Last Good Day"
(Reviewed by Bill Robinson SEP 24, 2003)The makings of a decent HBO movie -- that is my first reaction to Peter Blauner's new thriller, The Last Good Day. Blauner won an Edgar Allen Poe Award for his 2001 novel Slow Motion Riot. With this new work, he has definitely created a first rate page-turner, guaranteed to hold interest and attention to the last page.
And, the more you turn the pages, the more you realize that this is not garden-variety entertainment. The story does have a swift, addictive narrative; but, it also has substance and depth, characteristics that many books in this genre often lack.
The time is the period of sobering, economic downturn that followed the go-go 1990's. It is two weeks after 9/11. Lynn Schulman, the book's main character, has just moved back to Riverside, New York, her girlhood home. The goal of the relocation is to escape the harsh realities of Manhattan in hopes of recapturing some of the remembered innocence of her youth. The small town is located up the Hudson River. Grand Central is a short hour by train.
Blauner's description of Riverview exemplifies his rich and insightful prose:
"This was one of the places where the working people traditionally lived close to the water, while the striving classes ascended into the hills. But the New Economy had torn through the town and scrambled the landscape Through most of the nineties, real estate prices had skyrocketed; scrappy little linoleum-encrusted ranch houses with tiny unrenovated kitchens were selling for close to half a million. Precious little antique stores and galleries started popping up on streets that decent middle-class people used to be afraid to walk down. But then the prosperity had suddenly receded, leaving everyone stranded, So now you had converted warehouse condos and supersize chain stores sitting vacant along the waterfront, while stockbroker's wives up in the hills brutally nickel-and-dimed their Mexican gardeners."
Lynn Schulmann is no romantic, but many hard years later, she needs to remember her youth as simple and idyllic. She has convinced herself that Riverview, despite its present condition, does have the stability and honest small-town values conducive for a better nurturing of her family.
Barry, Lynn's husband, is a former corporate lawyer. He has made a recent 180-degree turn to work with a start-up pharmaceutical company. If his company can unlock the genetic key to curing Alzheimer's, he and his small group of founders are millionaires. If not, they face unforgiving bankruptcy
Lynn balances the roles of full-time mom and homemaker, with her other life as a part-time, but serious documentary photographer. Her photo work has demonstrated a talent for capturing "the real thing." She shows at a gallery in SoHo.
Their two children are the withdrawn, overweight Danny, a 12-year old whose only interest is video games, and Hannah, a sullen, 17-year-old, a would-be punker complete with butterfly tattoo. Her parents favor an Ivy League direction. Her tongue-studded boyfriend seems less inclined.
Taunt tensions permeate the book. Lynn has startling and uncomfortable encounters with Mike Fallon, her teenage boyfriend. Mike is now a tough, rough around the edges lieutenant on the town's police force. He is known and respected for his ability to fight crime by cutting through whatever needs slicing to get things done. He also has a just below the surface psychotic streak. Early in the book, he begins to stalk Lynn, trying to resurrect a past that she would as soon forget.
Mike broods from recent professional rejection. He was passed over as the town's Chief of Police, the job going to his colleague Harold Baltimore, a black policeman who also runs the town funeral home. He has been Mike's best friend since the two were together in grade school. Their friendship dates back three decades to a time when interracial friendships were rare.
Mike's smoldering bitterness is fueled by his belief that Harold's elevation was based on race. Mike spars incessantly with his new boss, Harold, harping on the injustice he feels.
Lynn's unexpected encounters with Mike have an uncomfortably dangerous edge. Barry's business bickering with his associates illustrates the desperate side of business. Lynn feels removed from her former high school girlfriends, whose favorite activity is gossipy coffee claques.
Considering all these competing dynamics, the story could be in danger of falling of its own weight; however, Blauner successfully manages these overlapping tensions in a way that keeps the reader engrossed rather than confused. Blauner's vivid descriptions of people and place have a knowing accuracy. Only occasionally does he slip into soap opera melodrama common to books of this variety.
The discovery of a decapitated body floating towards the Hudson River shore begins the book. A collection of early morning commuters look down from the train platform in disbelief and horror. Then most take the 7:46 and the police finally arrive. This is about as gruesome as the book gets. Rather than shock, Blauner allows carefully chronicled personal encounters to startle and stun.
Without revealing the plot, suffice it to say that the headless body pulled from the river turns out to have been almost everyone's long-time friend. The search for the murderer has dramatic and surprising turns. This drives the page turning. However, the plot, which builds slowly but intensely, seems almost secondary to the book's substance. Vivid character studies and observant social and cultural observations are what make this a good read.
The Last Good Day transcends even HBO. Its smart drama would make it appropriate for the big screen. If well produced, creatively cast, and aggressively promoted, the film version of the novel would garner rave reviews and a wide audience. The book deserves a similar reception.
- Amazon readers rating: from 45 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Last Good Day at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Slow Motion Riot (1991)
- Casino Moon (1994)
- The Intruder (1996)
- Man of the Hour (1999)
- The Last Good Day (2003)
- Slipping Into Darkness (2006)
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- The official Web site for Peter Blauner
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About the Author:
Peter Blauner lives in New York with his wife, author Peg Tyre, and their two children.