Julie H.'s Reviews > Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery

Outerborough Blues by Andrew Cotto
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Jul 12, 12

bookshelves: mystery
Read in July, 2012

Some books start strong and stay that way, establishing and layering themes, returning to them later and circling back to complete loops begun pages or chapters earlier. Andrew Cotto's Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery a noirish work of fiction, is precisely one of those works. Its opening paragraph is thoroughly successful as both barometer and pace clock for events in the tightly-written 200 pages that follow:
My mother's mother came to this country in the usual way--she got on a boat with other immigrants and sailed from Sicily. She wasn't one of them, however: neither tired nor poor or part of any huddled mass. Instead, she traveled alone, with her money in one sock and a knife in the other, coming to the new world with an old world motive--to murder the man that had left her for America (p. 9).

Outerborough Blues... provides a window into one week in the life of Caesar Stiles, a twenty-something New Jersey man ten years uprooted by a missing father, a dead mother, a habitually violent eldest brother, a dead elder brother, and a none-too-suprising inability to give, receive or expect any sort of permanency.

Characterized on the book's jacket as "a drifter," Caesar is a keen observer of the human condition who, against all odds, gets drawn in (in classic noir style) by an attractive freckled young French woman who appears at the Brooklyn bar/restaurant called the Notch, where he works. He is quickly drawn into her dead-ended search for her missing brother, a painting student who has gone MIA from the Art Institute and fallen into the world of drug addiction in an ill-advised effort to tap into the pain experienced by many famous artists as a means for improving the quality of his already-outstanding art. Part mystery, part treatise on the vicissitudes of family dysfunction, neighborhood demographics, race relations and the search for identity, Caesar Stiles is both no man and every man in so far as he seeks to free himself from his many demons who include his absent father, a criminal kingpin known as the Orange Man, his recently-paroled murderous brother Sal and, most of all, his long-felt guilt over his well-loved brother's death. He likewise taps into experiences that are both regionally distinct and iconically transcend region or group. What sets Caesar apart from other noir antiheroes is the fact that he is a decent person, is able to learn, and will likely find his way out the other side of his dilemma. While by no means a man to be trifled with, he has compassion for others and shrewdly distinguishes between fights that are his to wage and those that belong to others. Case in point, his final interaction with the Captain during which Caesar observes, "He had a fight coming, but it wasn't with me" (p. 199).

This book was exceptionally well written, and I definitely look forward to reading more of Cotto's work. (In fact, had it not been so riddled with distracting typographical errors [esp. repeated and/or inverted word order] I'd have given it five stars. Let's please do better next outing, Ig Publishing.)
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