Jake Achilles is an old-school cop: when sh*t hits the fan, he’ll shoot first and ask questions later, and he’ll break the law to protect it. When Jake and his partner, Kruger Odysseus, follow the cooling trail of a beguiling murder, they might just be digging too deep. As gangs form dangerous new alliances, mysterious happenings crop up all over the city, is the New York city of Elysium really all it seems to be, or is there something yet darker below the surface? What will happen when a jealous curse is foolishly let loose? The mystery of The Ring of Gallows by Gary Whorley is about to unfold.
This detective noir draws inspiration from the Iliad, of all things, for a genuinely unique-feeling mystery. There’s been plenty of modern reboots of classics that take the inspiration and run hog-wild with it, though not very many succeed (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” a notable exception.) It may be surprising to see that The Ring of Gallows does it pretty well, albeit with a number of caveats. The book is grittier than a gravel path in a Billy Wilder flick and pulls no punches.
The very first page of the read lays out the score in plain view: child molesters on trial, police tampering evidence to make the arrest; bloodied noses and smoking guns; the city is rotten to the core and nobody can escape it. The cast is stronger than burnt black coffee and just as hard to swallow with their myriad flaws and plethora of vices to offset the flickers of light that separate the good guys from the bad. It’s terrifying and weirdly beautiful to watch these broken men and women come together in this unusual world, all together to save their little world from unknown dangers.
The book is snappy from start to finish but could have used just a touch of reeling back as it just about touches the line between appropriate and gratuitous at times, such as referring to Internal Affairs as “bitch squad.” It’s fair for the setting, of course, but it just almost goes over the line. By the end of the book, this can swing a little to the other direction as the tragedy and melodrama of its roots begin to show through. The whole thing is wrapped in a rather plain cover, evoking old-school textbooks and the classics with its simplicity and its classical portraiture; and just a little coy with its presentation. The thought is there, but it misses the mark as the cover doesn’t really express the tone of the book itself at all.
It’s a cinematic novel, and that’s not to its discredit. It’s a great read if you can get past the rough edges and the pure, uncut strangeness of the premise. It’s pulpy, it’s heart-stopping, it’s eerie, and it’s epic; if that sounds appealing, do yourself a favor and try out this diamond-in-the-rough supernatural noir oddity.
Content warning: strong language, violence, sexual content, and discussion of traumatic crimes.