Four lifetime friends are the focus of this novel, their relationships bridging the years and continuing on through their adult lives. But on a cold day in Harlem, one of them, Frank Redmond, a priest, plunges to his death, leaving Gabe Driscoll, a police officer, and Andy Troy, a journalist, to determine the cause of death - suicide or murder?
Father Frank's demise awakens the past for these now middle-aged men, the poignant memories of their years together still fresh, making the death all the more painful and suspicious. Gabe Driscoll, Earl Finley, Andrew Troy and Frank Redmond are the crux of an award-winning swim team at Fordham Prep in New York, bonded by their athletic victories, Catholic religion and easy friendship. These boys grow up to be Chief of Internal Affairs, a prosecutor with an eye on public office, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a priest.
Driscoll mines his sources in police ranks for anyone who might have wanted Redmond out of the way - drug dealers or gang members - as the quest for resolution takes on a life of its own. Regardless of their efforts, the cop and the journalist are hard-pressed to learn anything helpful about their friend. Frank appears a cipher, his monastic life devoid of clues as to his personal demons.
The truth of the matter is revealed in flashbacks to the earlier years of these men, from their youth to their adult lives, the more private aspects of each, the disappointments and moral dilemmas that define their relationships. There is great energy in the telling of this tale: the school years, the Vietnam experience, generational changes that affect the kind of men they become. Shifting from past to present, it is easy to identify with their youthful dreams and the lessons learned along the way.
Daley writes as if he knows this territory intimately, and for that reason, the characters and plot are entirely believable, the story particularly affecting as these four men are so like their generation, although they are not as familiar with the women in their lives. This, perhaps, is the fatal flaw in the investigation: Driscoll and Troy have looked at Frank's world through their own eyes, a prism that is distorted by its male perspective.
In the end, it is the women who understand, who have watched Father Redmond struggle with his flawed humanity, felt compassion for the man and the priest. From the Bronx to Harlem, from Vietnam to Africa, the novel speaks to friendship in all its permutations; it is those unexpected moments of loss that question how well one man really knows another and just how much of this road is tread irrevocably alone. After all, "The strongest ones don't bend, they break."