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Death at the Old Hotel

February 10th, 2009 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

Death at the Old Hotel, by Con Lehane (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

All New York is divided into three parts, da City, the Island, and Upstate. Each of these three parts are distinct and none really understands, trusts, or even really likes the other two. Con Lehane’s New York City is supposed to be the real deal, but what do I know. I’m from Upstate. To add insult to injury, my parents are both New Englanders who tended to see all New Yorkers as flatlanders and leaf-peepers. My colleague, Richard Pipes–Southerner though he may be–knows the City far better than do I and certainly suffers from a genuine affection for the place.

Be that as it may, I got a hold of Death at the Old Hotel first, and if Con Lehane’s portrayal of the City is at all true, then it is not such a bad place after all. Lehane’s protagonist is Brian McNulty, bartender, humanitarian, accidental detective and perennial NYPD murder suspect. McNulty tends to attract trouble (police assume that those who attract trouble are generally looking for it) and has no love for the officialdom in general and law enforcement in particular. The latter he learned from his father, a retired union organizer and investigator. As such, he doesn’t trust the police to solve the crimes he stumbles upon for him. Fortunately (as mentioned above) McNulty’s father acts as his pro bono investigator, consultant, and coach.

The death takes place during an impromptu labor strike at a hotel (whodathunk) on the cusp of its long decline. Almost immediately McNulty and the reader (on one hand) have a bead on the killer or killers and the police have an entirely different set (oh no, I’m not say’n nutt’un). Various colorful distractions come into play (ex-spouses, dead spouses, estranged teen-aged children, kidnappings, illegal aliens, union bosses, organized crime, the Irish Republican Army, and that’s the short list) and they all make sense. Oh, there are a couple of additional murders thrown in for good measure. Normally such a well worn device is used either to confuse a plot that is going along just too smoothly or save to save a witless detective
whose method is to follow corpses like breadcrumbs to the killer.  McNulty breaths new life into a plot point that would otherwise leave the story as an unsolved causality.

Death at the Old Hotel is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Jimm Wetherbee

Death at the Old Hotel is no longer held, but if it looks good, you can still get it on InterLibrary Loan.