By Robert Daley
$5.95 at Amazon
Robert Daley is an old pro at writing gritty New York crime stories. He wrote the non-fiction book that was the source of the 1980s movie “Prince of the City,” and he’s written 17 novels.
The Enemy of God, recently made available as an ebook, runs on parallel tracks. It bounces between the investigation into the death of a Catholic priest who somehow went off the top of a building and the back story of four friends who became the priest, a journalist, a cop and a prosecutor.
The homicide detectives on the scene want to quickly clear the death of the Rev. Frank Redmond as a suicide. After all, he fell from a fourth-floor rooftop, and no one else was seen in the area. The medical examiners agree, as does Fr. Frank’s monsignor, who refuses to give him a Catholic burial and hints at sexual impropriety.
But Gabe Driscoll, a major mogul in the NYPD, cannot believe his high school friend has committed the unpardonable sin of suicide and enlists their aid swim-team buddy Adam Troy, now a big-time newspaper reporter, to help unearth the truth about his death.
In alternating chapters, the history of Redmond, Driscoll, Troy and the fourth member of their 200-yard freestyle relay team, Earl Finley, slowly plays out to establish the circumstances that led to Frank’s death.
Though close as boys and as teammates at Fordham University, each member of the quartet has had his own life and loves as an adult, leaving plenty of room for secrets. In a way, the wives of Finley and Driscoll knew more about the four men than they knew about one another.
Much of The Enemy of God, such as the friends’ dogged pursuit of an explanation for the death of a man they admired, is familiar. But by emphasizing the history of their personal lives – known and unknown to the self-appointed investigators – Daley gives us a densely woven book that makes the reader think “novel” more than “mystery.” His cold and gray New York envelops the narrative with a ’60s and ’70s city of walk-up apartments, stick ball and dirty subway cars rather than the Big Apple of Sinatra and the Whitney Museum.
The larger portion of the book deals with the personal stories, especially that of Frank Redmond, a man of almost saintly behavior who, nonetheless, faced demons intrinsic and incidental to his Catholic faith and clerical vows.
As might be expected, the facts that eventually emerge about Frank’s death don’t lead to the closure the friends sought. Real life is often like that.