August 18, 2014

Book Review: The Dog Killer of Utica by Frank Lentricchia

This book was odd, but gripping. I'm not quite sure how to explain the way it's written. Stream-of-consciousness? Dubious narrator? Surreal? All of the above? The whole book is told from the point of view of Eliot Conte, and sometimes it's not quite clear what's happening in his head, and what's happening in real life. Have you read The Oxford Murders? Or any Ernesto Mallo books? Strangely enough, for a book set in Utica, it reminded me strongly of several Argentinian mysteries I've read.

As The Dog Killer of Utica opens, Eliot Conte-- son of a Mafia kingmaker, former private investigator, teacher of English literature--is trying to stay sober and finish his Melville dissertation. But then Bobby Rintrona, one of his best friends, is shot and Bobby's dog is killed. Within hours, one of Eliot's students, a Bosnian Muslim man named Mirko Ivanovic, is accused by Homeland Security of associating with a radical imam. The next day, police chief Antonio Robinson's dog is also shot and killed, and Antonio's wife is injured during the attack. Clearly something sinister is afoot in Utica. Eliot will need all his wits to solve the crimes and help Mirko without estranging his own girlfriend, detective Catherine Cruz.

Somewhat past his glory days, Eliot reflects the situation of his New York hometown: Utica's wealthy mobster history and high crime rate play into the story, as Eliot battles the terrible weather and corrupt political and legal forces in his investigation. Profane, intelligent and mentally unstable, Eliot is fascinatingly complicated. His cryptic conversations and muddled thoughts keep the reader guessing as the mystery unfolds in a stream of consciousness.

Lentricchia brings Utica to life on the page, reminiscing about its heyday and showcasing its current economically downtrodden situation. Lentricchia has managed to blend Melville, Verdi, the Mafia, Homeland Security, small-town life and murder into a fast-paced novel that will appeal to both fans of noir and surrealist literature. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Nope. Lots of violence + lots of swearing + I bet it would confuse her. Unless she's into that sort of thing.

Have you ever been to Utica?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. And it contains some affiliate links, thanks for supporting Quirky Bookworm.