"Hard, Hard City"
(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale DEC 19, 2004)
Hard, Hard City is the fourth book in the first-person Terry Orr series by Jim Fusilli. The books in this crime noir series, which also include Closing Time, A Well-Known Secret, and Tribeca Blues, all take place after the death of Terry’s wife and son, leaving Terry to raise his daughter Gabriella “Bella” alone. Terry also tries to deal with the unexpected and unclear circumstances of their death as Terry changes from a writer into a part time private detective, especially in the early books as he tracks down the person he believes killed his wife and son.
In Hard, Hard City, Bella’s friend Daniel Wu (not her boyfriend - the one that is, she keeps him away from her father) asks Terry to look for Allie Powell, a high school student friend of Elixa, one of Daniel’s friends. Allie Powell lives in Silver Haven, New Jersey, but also takes classes with Elixa at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Elixa asks Daniel for help since she hadn’t seen Allie lately, so Daniel decides to ask Terry.
Terry starts his investigation by talking to John McPorter, Allie Powell’s uncle in New York where Allie might have been staying. McPorter is an eccentric, but likeable man who tells Terry that although Allie had been staying with him, Allie along with $471 and some papers that John’s son Buddy had stored from his safe are also missing. McPorter doesn’t believe Allie stole the money or papers though.
Orr next visits Silver Haven to find out more about Allie’s parents and the missing papers. Terry had found out that Allie’s father Harlan had made money as a shady stock broker and his mother Alexandra had become a talented photographer. However, Terry meets resistance in Silver Haven and is beaten by Harlan’s thug and ushered out of town by the local police. Of course, this only makes Terry more interested and dedicated to helping to find Allie.
The back stories of this book (and presumably the prior books) are Terry’s relationships with his daughter Bella and his girlfriend Julie. Although I haven’t read the prior books, my sense was that his relationship with both is improving. However, at least with Julie, he still struggles with accepting her, given what happened to him with his wife, both her death and her apparent relationship with another man.
Jim Fusilli’s strength is by far his use of characterization. The people in this book are very believable and although you are seeing them through the first person perspective of Terry Orr you not only get Terry’s perspective, but you get to develop your own opinions about these very real people. Fusilli provides this not only in the first person thoughts of Terry but in well written dialogue.
I found this book difficult to follow at times since I had not read any of the previous books in the series. Jim Fusilli does provide some background about Terry Orr and his life in the Prologue, but this section is also a bit confusing and written in a slightly different and even more introspective format than the rest of the book. I re-read the Prologue after finishing the book and it makes more sense now since I understand Terry Orr and other characters in the book. Therefore, I’m recommending that if you haven’t read any other book in the series, read this section slowly and perhaps read the first few pages again when you get confused. This book is definitely worth taking some time to understand these complex characters, although I think I would have preferred that it didn’t take quite this much work. Maybe starting from the first book in the series and working forward would negate this problem. With what I've read so far, this seems like it would be a rewarding approach to this series.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Closing Time (September 2001)
- A Well-Known Secret (November 2002)
- Tribecca Blues (October 2003)
- Hard, Hard City (September 2004)
- The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (33 1/3 Series) (May 2005)
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- The official website for Jim Fusilli
- MysteryOne interview with Jim Fusilli
- BookReporter interview with Jim Fusilli
- Watermarkbooks.com review of Closing Time
- Mystery Ink review of Tribeca Blues
- January Magazine review of Tribeca Blues
- Post-Gazette review of Hard, Hard City
- January Magazine review of Hard, Hard City
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About the Author:
Jim Fusilli was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. He attended Roman Catholic schools for 12 years, and was graduated from St. Peter's College in Jersey City, where he was on the staff of the school newspaper and radio station. For a number of years, Jim wrote songs and played guitar in rock bands in and around Greenwich Village.
He writes for the Wall Street Journal, for which he has served as a rock and pop critic since 1983 and is a contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered. In 2002 and 2003, Jim served as the mystery fiction critic for The Boston Globe.
Jim lives in New York City with his wife, Diane, a public relations executive. Their daughter attends college in New York.