Buried on Avenue B
Peter de Jonge
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Buy *Buried on Avenue B* by Peter de Jonge online

Buried on Avenue B
Peter de Jonge
320 pages
July 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Out of the muck and mire of human depravity that is Buried on Avenue B, something magnificent comes: a killer character in the shape of Darlene O’Hara, a tough, ultra-smart NYPD homicide detective. Never before has Darlene endured so many twists and turns in a murder case, and never before have the gritty Manhattan streets been so fraught with evil.

From the opening pages of this tale, there’s a sense of quiet desperation when Paulette Williamson comes into Homicide South to report a possible murder. A home health aide taking care of elderly Gus Henderson, Paulette tells Darlene and Darlene's partner, late-career detective Jandorek, that seventeen years ago Gus stabbed a man in a fight then buried the body in a community garden on the corner of Sixth Street and Avenue B. After forty-five years of heroin addiction, Gus’s mind is so demented with drugs that Darlene is reluctant take his alleged confession seriously.

Founded in 1983, the garden still exists where Gus claims. Amid scores of individual self-contained and slightly elevated wood-framed lots, Darlene and the team discover a shallow grave for a hapless victim: the body of a ten-year-old boy with a broken leg that was never set and a bullet lodged his shoulder. Although Jandorek is certain the boy was a victim of some crazy cult or someone who was just "living off the grid," the investigation hinges on an overdue debt and clues from a couple of hapless dope-smoking street kids--and from various other characters living on the margins who unwittingly become part of the investigation.

In a landscape littered with drugged-out pictures of underage boys and girls who have little or no prospects to a deceased artist whose disturbing images hang in a salubrious Chelsea gallery, de Jonge sets the tone for all that follows. A good deal of violent subtext makes the novel a toxic slice of Manhattan crime. Though murder and robbery loom over the action, the book is more a leering look at a series of intimidations and humiliations of the elderly and the frail.

Plot twists keep the pressure building, turning the tale into a powder-keg of emotion that reflects Darlene’s internal struggles over the welfare of her son, Axl. A lead singer in an underground rock band, Axl is faced with his own challenges. The story quickly accelerates as the clues take Darlene to the stale, bittersweet boardwalks of Coney Island and on to Sarasota, Florida, and an unlikely friendship with Connie Warinka. Characterized by a “hardcore butch aesthetic,” Connie tells Darlene of an incident that has been kept under wraps: a retired eighty-seven-year-old manufacturer of women’s cosmetic gloves who supposedly blew his brains out.

Moments of great drama are saturated with the black irony while scams and scripts refined and honed over the years are suddenly exposed. Somewhere in “the corroded synapses” of Gus Henderson’s brain is an image of exactly what happened in that garden. The irony is that Gus probably never committed any of the sins he is accused of. Meanwhile, Darlene becomes the novel’s deadliest weapon, acknowledging threats while dropping her voice and wrapping up eloquence in wisecracking tones. The secondary characters also capture the ethos that is the detective’s working life, while de Jonge heavily salts his tale with a distinctive Florida and New York flavor, a sort of deep-fried, alcohol-tinged noir.

In terms of a compelling story, the disjointedness of the case sometimes stops the flow of the plot, yet de Jonge posits an exciting, compelling read. His book unfolds in a heady maelstrom of greed and age-old vendettas that leaves us wanting so much more of Darlene and her Manhattan landscape of crime.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2012

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