For the second week of Mystery Month, The Author Chronicles’ featured author is Dennis Tafoya. Dennis prefers referring to his novels — his acclaimed debut novel, Dope Thief, which came out in 2009, and his second novel, The Wolves of Fairmount Park — as crime fiction rather than mystery. While the mystery of who committed the crime is a part of his novels, solving the mystery is not the central focus of his books.
The Wolves of Fairmount Park begins with the drive-by shooting of two innocent teenagers who are standing in front of a drug den on Roxborough Avenue in a seedy Philadelphia neighborhood. No one knows what the two boys are doing there in the middle of the night. According to all who know them, the two are good boys who barely know each other. No one could imagine either boy using drugs.
This tragic event sets in motion ripples of consequences that touch the lives of many people. Although this incident is fictional, similar incidents happen all too frequently in Philadelphia and other cities across the country — which adds an extra touch of realism and poignancy to the events in The Wolves of Fairmount Park.
While discovering who’s behind the shooting is an important part of the novel, the real focus of the book is the people who are affected by and involved in the crime, people on both sides of the law. All of these characters are flawed, complex people, which makes them all the more real.
Among the more-or-less good guys, we have George Parkman Sr., the guilt-ridden father of the boy who was killed, a man who never understood or accepted the son who was so different from himself; Brendan Donovan, a cop and father of boy who survived in a comatose condition, a man who had failed to save his younger half-brother from a nightmare home life; Danny Martinez, the young detective determined to find the real culprit behind shooter of the son of one of their own; and Orlando Donovan, the heroin addict brother of Brendan, who lives near the crime scene and sees a kind of redemption in searching for the truth. On the other side of the law, among the gangs and drug lords vying for territory and power, are Asa Carmody, the childhood friend of Danny Martinez, who provides his old friend occasional help in solving cases; Chris Black, the not-so-bright hired muscle who always seems to screw up his assignments; and Angel Riordan, the Irish hitman who prides himself on his loyalty and skills.
The characters — superbly drawn, flawed people making their way through life the best they can — are the key in this drama, and Dennis Tafoya’s characterizations and lyrical descriptions bring them to life. Though we know long before the end who is behind the growing chain of bodies, that in no way diminishes the gripping power of the story. This is a grim world, where characters trapped by circumstances into lives they didn’t want interact and deal with the results of the drive-by shooting — and some discover that they have choices, choices that can lead to redemption.
The Wolves of Fairmount Park is fast-paced and compelling. The skillful interweaving of the lives of the ensemble cast of complex characters made me really think about how much our lives are connected to those of others and how one event can have a domino effect on so many. Dennis has the knack of making the ‘bad’ guys real human beings — human beings you can empathize with in spite of what they do, human beings you can hope will find redemption, human beings whose lives are just as tragic as that of the dead boy.
This was another book I couldn’t put down. I fell in love with Orlando and agonized for him through all his fumbling attempts to do something good. I also found myself in the unusual position of disliking some of the ‘good’ guys and rooting for some of the ‘bad’ guys, hoping they would find a way out of the unsatisfying morass of their day-to-day lives. And that is a tribute to the writing skills of Dennis Tafoya.
From spinetinglermag.com: “Tafoya once again finds that wonderful balance between emotionally charged, character-driven drama and action-packed thriller that only the best in the crime genre seem to ever achieve.”