What You Break (Putnam, $27.00) is the second of his Gus Murphy novels. Gus is a retired policeman on Long Island working for a second-rate hotel near the practically unused MacArthur airport, as the van driver and weekend bouncer in the bar frequented by lonely middle-aged people. If this doesn’t sound noir enough, in the first book Gus’s son died, his wife had an affair with a fellow officer, and Gus now lives alone in the hotel. Too bad Bogart isn’t around for the movie.
One of Gus’s friends at the hotel is the porter, Slava, a mysterious Russian immigrant who saved Gus’s life in the first book. Frankly, the first book sounds better than the second and I intend to read it. Nevertheless, late one-night Gus picks up a mysterious, menacing man at the airport who says nothing but causes a frightened expression on Slava’s face when the new guest walks through the door. Gus notices and worries about his otherwise indestructible friend.
Later Gus receives a call from his buddy, Bill, a former Army chaplain in Vietnam who has renounced the priesthood. Bill wants Gus to meet Micah Spears whose daughter has been brutally murdered by a Central American gang member. Spears assures Gus that the murderer has been caught and that DNA evidence confirms his guilt. However, no one can figure out the “why” of the murder. The young woman had no connection with gangs, was a college graduate, and working at a local factory in the accounting department. Our Gus doesn’t want money, but accepts Spears’s offer to create a trust fund in honor of Gus’s deceased son, one dedicated to disadvantaged children.
Later when Gus’s friend Slava leaves in the middle of the night, Gus decides to follow him. After a long drive to a nondescript house Gus witnesses the murder of a man who obviously knew Slava. Gus agrees to hide Slava at his former house, a place Gus can never live in again because his son died there. In the meantime, Gus is making absolutely no headway on finding out why the gang member came across Spears’s daughter, let alone why he killed her.
During this excitement, Gus has goodbye sex with his ex-wife — she’s marrying another guy. Then his girlfriend decides to move to Detroit and they have “maybe” goodbye sex. After two more offers from women he has just met, we understand Gus really gets around.
All this hangs in the air while the New York police try to learn what Gus knows about the murder he witnessed. But, as a former cop, the hero knows how to play the interrogation game better than anyone. When another friend of Slava’s is found murdered, Gus must divulge what he knows at the risk of implicating Slava, although the cops don’t know where to find Slava.
When Gus gets a lead on what might have happened to Spears’s daughter the loose ends flow together nicely. Although the ending was predictable, Gus is a great character. You can almost lose yourself in his pain. I give the book a solid B and plan on reading more of Coleman’s work.