Tonawanda News

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March 18, 2013

BOOK NOOK: 'Closer Than a Brother' is Niagara Falls, from the bottom

It would seem Niagara Falls would be an ideal, and constant, setting of crime fiction. History, immigration, territorial grabs, the machinations of the hydroelectric business, the occasional body going over the waterfall, as well as the usual urban tales of cruelty, are topics that could put Niagara Falls up there with gritty New York and gritty Los Angeles and gritty Chicago as gritty settings.

Enter local writer Christy Laughing with her privately published (and available, as books are these days, through Amazon and other online outlets) with “Closer Than a Brother,” a complicated tale of a Niagara Falls police office unraveling an incident involving gas line explosions, undercover work, the search for a mysterious overlord of the city’s drug trade and a personal love/hate dimension that passes for Lt. Kevin Larson’s neurosis (true to the genre, the protagonist is a good guy with an eccentricity both crippling and beneficial)

The plot is an involved one. Somehow it requires the reader to closely follow every paragraph on every page. Not a bit of fluff here, and that’s a high-degree compliment to the author. She’s been studying Raymond Chandler, I suspect, another writer who can toss a crucial clue into a casual conversation or observation, and it repays the reader, pages later, if he or she caught it.

Thus is tipping off the story a dangerous thing to do. Suffice that Laughing expertly handles the intertwining of characters and their motivations. Detective fiction typically requires not only a plot — good guys versus bad guys and a lot of people in between — but a lot of explanation of characters’’ impetus. This book has plenty of both.

This reviewer expected a simpler story from a first-time novelist. Fortunately, he did not get it. He also hoped for more local detail than place names he recognized; there are references to the Falls and to Ransomville, but the feel of the city could have been better described. After a while, the adventure could have been conducted in any city in America.

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