Review: Uptown by J. T. Riggen

Uptown by J. T. Riggen is a crime thriller telling a story of three parts: Mark Kennedy, now ex-detective doing a life sentence for a brutal mob massacre in conjunction with an underworld comrade in the spirit of what he considers rightful justice; Will Sutherland, working detective looking to do the right thing in a job that looks straight in the eyes of atrocity and the daily horrors of corruption, dirty money and innocent blood; and Rachel Davis, a girl about to face the dark side of the real and adult world on her first steps away from her privileged and sheltered life with her loving parents in the Boston suburbs. Together they come, through various circumstances, to confront the villainous, anarchistic and hedonistic world of the Uptown casino in a noir-style thriller, and soon each one finds themselves fighting battles they never thought they’d have to, some ways for better, but undoubtedly in many ways for worse. Will they pull through in-tact, winning their often conflicting battles of interests when the chips are almost completely down, or will the house take it all away? Who will be left standing when the last hand is played?

Overall the book is quite enjoyable. It has to be mentioned that anyone uninterested in a writer who takes their time to set the scenery – albeit still definitely short of being called purple prose – is likely to dislike the slow and careful pace the book takes in many chapters. As can be expected in a story of at least two detectives the devil is in the details of every scene. Occasionally the writer tends to focus on minute details a bit too much in a way that sometimes detracts from the actual narrative of the story and slows down a chapter at the exact point where you might want things to pick up, but overall there’s very much an awareness of when we want to be left in suspense for the better and when, say, a raid is being taken on and we need to feel the adrenaline. A big positive to any reader who enjoys their scenes set as a running narrative and feeling things through a character’s own experience will appreciate how immersive things can be.

Still the book maintains the kind of dry wit you would expect in this kind of read, with dots of sharp and genuinely amusing lines like “the only thing worse than the man’s stench was his arrogance.” The book is intensely gritty in many areas and things become bitter from page one. Still the rough sandpaper humor of a cop who’s seen enough to be desensitized comes across adequately and unfortunately regularly as every couple of chapters are punctuated with a grisly scene of murder or torture, a sexual crime or a gangland shooting.

There are purposefully unpleasant descriptions in this book, but they all exist to show the harsh reality of every depth the characters sink to, or find themselves faced with, and will turn you away in the best way narratively possible. These can sometimes contrast between each character’s perspective and between each chapter and it does a very good job of pointing out the differences in the characters as a result, even when their paths cross and their stories are spun together. It keeps these threads distinct even when they blend together and I think that the author should be commended for achieving this.

The story can sometimes feel a bit predictably set up, but I for one had fun regardless as even when I knew where I might be headed, the route there was a scenic and pleasant – or rather, unpleasant in the best possible sense – one. A very good read, and one that has me pining to pick up Sin City all over again.

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