The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

December 22, 2009

THE NIGHT MEN by Keith Snyder

I'll just say it right up front, okay? I loved this book.

Why? Because you get three crime stories all neatly fitted one inside the other, just like a set of those Russian nesting dolls. And each story is worthwhile, scratch that, each story is terrific in its own right/write. (Shades of a John Lennon book title!)

The smallest, innermost story is told in the form of a crime novel called "The Night Men," very much an old pulp-style detective story, all about a man trying to save a mute child from the bad guys. Think Philip Marlowe, only tougher. Maybe Mickey Spillane stuff.

In the middle story, that novel is being read/shared by three teenage boys in Los Angeles. Each of these boys has in some way become severed from his family, either physically, emotionally or both.. The  three of them band together in a nightly watch to protect one of them from his violently anti-Semitic neighbors. The book becomes their road map to manhood: Everything they know about honor and manning up, they either know instinctively or they learn from this book's 'mean streets' character.

What happened to those boys is then recalled, bit by bit, in the outermost story when two of those boys, now adults, agree to keep watch all night in a Brooklyn music store that has been vandalized in what may have been a hate crime against the store's gay owners.

Snyder has crafted wonderful, fully realized characters here. They are bright and unique, even down to the minor characters, but the two leading characters, Jason and Robert, will have men everywhere recalling the angst of their teen years and the ultimate face-offs with their dads. Jason and Robert will also have women readers wanting to mother the intelligent, misunderstood, scared-but-brave boys they once were. The closest he comes to any kind of cliche is in the character of Thomas Carter, the protagonist of the pulp novel the boys are reading. It's easy to see that in those sections Snyder did not simply lapse into cliche, but instead faithfully wrote in the style he was imitating. It's as if the reader is witnessing three smart kids getting turned on to "I, the Jury." Or watching them as they begin to understand Sam Spade's dictate that when a man's partner is murdered, a man is supposed to do something about it.

As if these three stories aren't enough, Snyder also takes Jason and Robert on a magic-mushroom trip of an investigation into who vandalized the store, called the Magic Music Shop. Their journey takes them not only from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, but from contemporary times to the psychedelic '60s. And what's especially cool, is that Snyder gets it right. When he introduces a character from the heyday of psychedelia, it's not some buffoonish Cheech-and-Chong opportunity to poke fun at the hippies. That character is a real person, with his own history and presence and effect on the world he lives in.

You want more? Okay, as well as being a writer of no mean talent, Snyder is also a composer, and his Jason character is a musician. In a music shop, there's bound to be music, and even though this was not an audio book, Snyder made me hear Jason's music and made me appreciate those rare and special moments when a group of players fall into a zone where the art takes over and the music is a presence that creates and defines itself. Sort of like Snyder's writing.

Disclosure notice: I bought this book at retail. This is my opinion of the book. I don't get any money or gifts for saying what I think.  I guess I could never cut it as a Congressional representative.


  1. Well, I can't find a way to send this privately, so--

    Thank you, Naomi. This made my week.

  2. The pleasure was all mine. How about making my holiday, Keith, and telling me when I can expect a new book from you?

  3. Best case would probably be 2011. That assumes diligent work habits and a pleasantly fast sale. We'll see...

  4. Thanks for the info. Tell your agent you have my pre-order already lined up.

  5. Great review, Naomi. When looking this up, I noted it was the fourth in the Jason Keltner Mysteries. Have you read any of the first three? And if your didn't, did you feel you missed anything? Thanks for this, Naomi.

  6. I had read Timothy Hallinan's review of one of those earlier books, courtesy of Corey's link a while back, and that's how I came to this book. It was the only Snyder in stock at Foul Play Books. So I was concerned that I would be missing something by coming in on the most recent installment, but the truth is I couldn't tell there had been any previous books. There wasn't any reference to events that had happened "off stage" in another book that I could see. And with all the information about how the two main characters met and developed a friendship, I would have guessed this was the first book rather than the last if I hadn't known otherwise. This book stands all by itself quite easily.