My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
— John 3:20
Whenever your eyes cast themselves upon revering declarations that pertain to certain novels of fiction such as, “A gripping thriller with a shocking twist!” or “Unputdownable!” or “One of the best books I’ve ever read!” know for a surety that the dexterous hand of W.H. Herman was mightily blessed to scribe such a one in the highly recommended and entirely mind-blowing masterwork, South of the City — a prized fiction narrated by its creator over a time period of twenty-five years from 1990 to 2016.
It All Began With Her.
The talented Kim Wright makes her flawless debut in this lightning fast-paced thriller playing the emotionally and physically battered wife of Jim Wright, the tale’s antagonist. A young woman of a pleasant disposition who, alas, becomes unequally yoked with her husband’s calloused coward, Kim Wright is laboriously penitent that she didn’t heed her mother’s many warnings about Jim as the elder woman forbade her daughter from having any dealings—romantic or otherwise—with respect to him. She should’ve just listened to her mother’s tearful pleadings, Kim would later reflect to herself. Why oh why didn’t she just listen to her mother’s tearful pleadings? She should’ve just listened to her mother.
Grabbing its reader in a stronghold from the very first page, this captivating plot of murder, murder-for-hire, deception, political corruption, bribery, adultery, backstabbing, blackmail, vengeance, hopelessness, and hard-edged double-crossing features an award-worthy (and large) assembly of characters whose ships come to pass along the wide and spacious road of life in the New York-based small town of Grove Park . . . a tranquil little place where the rich—old and new alike—and the working class coexist in tolerant harmony.
And . . . Action!
With so many people’s lives viciously colliding head-on over the course of 400 pages, the Reaper is right in their midst, having himself a field day. And it’s up to our protagonist, detective Pete Webster, a man whose arms are already weary from the constant carrying of his own emotional baggage, to uncover the truths of many an ill deed, including serial murder, mafia entanglement, kidnapping, fraud, and any number of other federal offenses committed by a bundle of this grand ensemble’s never-do-wells.
. . . Especially the one named James.
James “Big Jim” Wainwright (formerly Jim Wright of Carthage, Iowa) is Grove Park’s Town Supervisor and a corrupt political figure if there ever were one. Once upon a time, though, James Wainwright had been Jim Wright, an Iowan of a hard-knock life who, together with his old partner in egregious crime, Mitch “The Stitch” Goren, shattered just about every law familiar to the Midwesterner during the dirty, hapless, poverty-stricken, and redneck days of their youth. Twenty-five years later, however, Big Jim—as he’s known to his crooked posse of cronies—has reinvented himself with both a brand new life in New York and a brand new name. But as fate would have it, the hateful—and hated—unfiltered Lucky Strikes smoker is now in somewhat of a bind as an eschewed ghost from his extremely unpleasant past has come back to simultaneously taunt him and haunt him.
Despite their jaundiced split twenty-five years earlier, Big Jim and Mitch Goren—the “Bode Gazzer” and “Chub” of this this here fine work of literature—may or may not have committed multiple murder in their natural habitat of Carthage, Iowa circa 1990. Only they both know what really happened to Jim’s first wife, the pretty blonde Kim, and her anti-Jim Wright mother, Melanie, in their farmhouse all those years ago. And while Jim would prefer to forget that part of his miserable life history, his erstwhile pal Mitch the Stitch definitely doesn’t share his sentiments — especially not when considering that “Jimbo,” an old nickname by which he so irksomely addresses Wainwright, left him to hang solo in the winds of the Midwest while he himself went in pursuit of local fame and riches on the East Coast. His old buddy Jimbo owes him big. And Mitch the Stitch—the nickname in reference to his battle scarred face—does not aim to exit Grove Park by way of the same manner in which he entered it, what cash broke.
As the pages of this action-packed film disguised as a literary work of fiction began to roll, the marvelous cast list extends to introduce the reader to those other members of the script’s fascinating troupe who appear as follows:
• Jack Ferris — tall and athletic with boyish good looks, is a painter by trade, a self-employed artisan (and unabashed beer guzzler) who does a magnificent job of adding vibrant colors and furnishing details to the walls and rooms of those pricey casas occupied by the nouveau riche in the gated compound of Heron Ridge Estates.
• Nicky Wainwright — Jim Wainwright’s drop dead gorgeous and way-too-spoiled (second) wife to whom Jack Ferris is especially attracted . . . and to whom Jack Ferris is especially attractive
• Pete Webster — unlikely protagonist, Grove City detective, and one of Jack Ferris’s closest friends, is a recent widower who is slowly yielding to an excruciatingly painful wound of depression that only alcohol can salve
• Marti Lucas — sole female patrol officer on the Grove Park Police Force and bench presser to whom Jack Ferris is especially attractive – or is it Nicky Wainwright to whom Marti Lucas is especially attracted?
• Joey Garrity — personal aide to Town Supervisor Jim Wainwright, and manager of Jim and Nicky Wainwright’s real estate agency
• Al Kaplan — former Grove Park attorney, advisor to Jim Wainwright, and town councilman
• Jill Sherman — married to the wealthy engineer Tim Sherman, stunning redhead, best friend to Nicky Wainwright, and possible love interest of Nicky Wainwright
• Victor Harmon — representative of New Century Corporation, and “golden retriever” for the corporation’s top bribe-offering honcho Kevin Cochran, a major land developer
• Kevin Cochran — elusive window dresser of a land developer to whom Victor Harmon is inferior, and Paulie Gotts is superior
• Brenda Jackson — hard-nosed—albeit gifted—attorney, Planning Board coordinator, and advocate for wetlands preservation
• Tim Sherman — wealthy engineer, vice president of Graham Aerospace, husband to Jill Sherman, and constant out-of-town traveling bit player
• Steve Hartman — former Grove Park police officer turned private investigator. Incidentally, Steve Hartman is hired by Nicky Wainwright to investigate Jim’s long lost Iowan background after finding a small bunch of puzzling paraphernalia in his office safe at home
• Paulie Gotts — Cochran and Harmon’s mysterious New York-based employer in whom “Big Jim” Wainwright (the former Jim Wright of Midwestern Iowa) finally meets his arctic-hearted match
(Resuming) And . . . Action!
It is within the cozy confines of Woody’s bar—a popular hangout for the blue bloods and the blue-collars of Grove Park—that Jack Ferris ultimately locks eyes with the sexy Nicky Wainwright, who, as it just so happens, is out on a group date with her husband Jim, her best friend Jill Sherman, and her husband’s right hand men, Joey Garrity and Al Kaplan. Enjoying a few beers with his now tipsy buddy, detective Pete Webster, Jack instantly recognizes the lovely Nicky from Strong’s gym—the same of which they’re both members. And straightaway upon eye contact, silent sparks began to fly—like bow-and-arrow armed cupids—between the them. However, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the big man—Big Jim—when Nicky eventually makes her way over to the handsome Jack to inquire of his professional painting services.
Apparently, there are a few rooms at Wayne, er, Wainwright manor that can stand some fresh new coats of color. And the good and married Nicky (already knowledgeable about Jack’s artistic talents, per his other wealthy clients) takes it upon herself to casually ask Jack if he would be interested in paying a visit to Jim’s and her home for an appraisal. Of course, Nicky Wainwright is not at all surprised When Jack Ferris agrees to her job offer because, as it is written, Nicky Wainwright is a woman who is well accustomed to getting any- and everything that she wants—especially from those of the opposite sex.
In due time, Jack and Nicky would hurl themselves onto a merry-go-round spinning to the loud carousel organ music of bliss . . . the loud carousel organ music of bliss that prevents one Marti Lucas from procuring a peaceful night’s rest.
Engaging in activities of illegality are nothing new to one lawless shyster, him being James Wainwright. And as Town Supervisor of Park Grove, accepting bribes from organized crooks—posed as legitimate businessmen—is only yet another extension of this trend.
Take for instance, the wetlands. Yes, those beautiful vast bayous and marshes of America that feverish members of the storied Sierra Club toil so strenuously to preserve the lives of, and rightfully so. But regardless of their EPA protected status, Supervisor Wainwright and his co-horts of kindred spirit, are monopolizing on these venerated lands and their creature inhabitants by issuing illicit contracts to unscrupulous developers whose main interests involve nothing more than desecrating the valued lands for the ravenous purpose of establishing (upscale) residential communities atop the graves of their natural wildlife. And no one is more disgusted by these felonious business dealings than Brenda Jackson, Esq., an attorney and the only African American member on the Planning Board, serving as its Coordinator.
Brenda Jackson also serves as an obstructor who intends to make the obtainment of any Planning Board-issued contracts to potential developers for the purpose of building gated communities (for the rich) on the guarded lands quite difficult, even for Victor Harmon—the Italian loafer-wearing and custom-tailored suit attired gofer—and his overseers at New Century Corporation who all, as a matter of fact, have taken to bribing certain small town officials—like James Wainwright and his two-man motley crew of Joey Garrity and Al Kaplan—in exchange for political favors. Not only is the infamous pit bull in a skirt (who is Brenda Jackson) prepared to vote thumbs-down on the New Century permit request, but she is also eyeing James Wainwright’s idolized job in the next election.
Admittedly, Brenda Jackson, Esq. is a fully loaded Beretta just waiting to have her trigger pulled. And her influential existence has become an aggravating thorn in the combined sides of James Wainwright, Victor Harmon, Kevin Cochran, and Paulie Gotts—this effort’s “Paul Cicero.”
Jill Sherman has to be one lonely woman, what considering that her breadwinner of a spouse—the notable engineer, Tim—often leaves her at home alone while he travels on business related to his famous company, Graham Aerospace. So, Jill spends the bulk of her quality time with her best gal pal, Nicky Wainwright. And the two ladies do pretty well, what working out together, shopping, lunching and other girly things of the like. Nicky loves her Jill . . . but Jim hates her Jill. And it is for this very reason that Jim urges Nicky to abandon Jill at a restaurant one night during a fierce lake effect snowstorm which is already in progress. The lovely redhead—who has already had a cosmopolitan or two (or three)—is forced to drive herself home, and in her husband’s classic 1975 Jaguar no less.
It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s snowy, and visibility is limited. Jill just wants to get back to the warmth and safety of her opulent home, and out of the unforgiving snowstorm. But someone else out on the snowy roads has other plans for the titian haired, classic 1975 Jaguar-driving beauty.
With never a boring moment to spare, the attention-absorbing and expansive South of the City continues to whip the reader around many a sharp turn at the corners of its cobblestone-paved roads . . . as though it were the Jaguar XE with 590 Horsepower. And as a passenger in this premium fuel-operated narrative of potency and adrenaline-inducing trepidation, you are warmly encouraged to stay glued your seats, and to keep your seatbelts snugly fastened.
(Resuming) And . . . Action!
Steve Hartman, P.I. has found himself on the Missing Persons list in Iowa after having visited the town, while in the employ of Nicky Wainwright, to learn more about her husband’s past there. He went. He questioned. He vanished.
It’s been two long weeks since Steve’s contentious, although very caring, ex-wife Sally has heard from him, prompting her to contact his old partner and good friend at the GPPD to not only supply him with an explanation, but also express her growing anxieties. And immediately recognizing the sudden stench in his nostrils as being that belonging to a mangy rat, detective Pete Webster opens his own investigation into his former partner’s disappearance in America’s Heartland—adding to his already mind-boggling overload. Can any of Pete’s criminal cases involving this tale’s remarkably talented cast get any worse? To utilize my very best Midwestern lingo: Oh, you betcha!
The South of the City storyline—with its pagination of 400—seems to go on forever, but boy is it phenomenal! So phenomenal in fact, that the reader won’t even take into regard the time consumption of its bi-state composition as he or she will be so immersed in the fascinating and entertaining drama unfolding in the lives of those men and women who so expertly play their parts within its covers.
Exceptionally scribed in short, fast-striding chapters, South of the City is a complete literary masterpiece from start to finish. More than worthy of its collected five-star reviews, the narrative is a diamond in the rough, truly so. And it was an honor for my reader to behold.
Five . . . critically-acclaimed stars.
• It is my kindly pleasure to thank CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, as well as W.H. Herman himself, for the author-issued copy of South of the City in exchange for my honest review.
Analysis of “South of the City” by W.H. Herman is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington: https://catellingtonblog.wordpress.com
Date of Review: Thursday, January 18, 2018
• Reviewer’s Note: Those fictional characters whose names were mentioned per this analysis as being likened to certain members of this work’s cast are known for the following:
Bode Gazzer and Chub, co-stars of Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You (Alfred A. Knopf, November 1997)
Paul “Paulie” Cicero, a mafia boss portrayed by Paul Sorvino in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990)