Book Review | Moonlight Falls by Vincent Zandri
Moonlight Falls is the Albany, New York-based paranoid tale (in the Hitchcock tradition) of former APD Detective turned Private Investigator/Massage Therapist, Richard â€œDickâ€ Moonlight, who believes he might be responsible for the brutal slaying by knife of his illicit lover, the beautiful Scarlet Montana. The situation is made all the worse since Scarlet is the wife of Moonlight’s boss, Chief of Detectives Jake Montana.
Why does Moonlight believe he might be responsible?
He’s got a small fragment of a .22 hollow point round buried inside his brain, lodge directly up against his cerebral cortex. The result of a botched suicide attempt four years prior to the novel’s start, an operation to remove the bullt frag would be too dangerous.
But the bullet causes Moonlight lots of problems, the least of which are the occasional memory loss and his rational ability to tell right from wrong. The bullet frag also might shift at any moment, making coma and/or sudden death, a very real possibility.
Still, Moonlight has been trying to get his life together as of late.
But when Scarlet begs him to make the trip over to her house late one rainy Sunday night to issue one of his massages, he makes a big mistake by sleeping with her. Later, having passed out in her bed, he will be rudely awakened by a garage door opening and Jake’s unexpected and very drunken homecoming. Making his impromptu escape out a top floor window, Moonlight will seek the safety of his home.
Two hours later however, he will receive another unexpected visit from Jake Montana. This time the big Captain has sobering news to report. He’s discovered his wife’s mutilated body in her own bed. She’s been murdered and now he needs the P.I. to investigate it in association with Albany’s overtaxed Special Independent Unit before I.A. pokes their nose into the affair. Moonlight takes a big step back. Is it possible he made a second trip to the Montana home-sweet-home and just has no recollection of it? Once there, did he perform a heinous crime on his part-time lover? Or is this some kind of set up by his former boss? Is it really Jake who is responsible for Scarlet’s death? Does he wish for Moonlight to cover up his involvement, seal the case before Internal Affairs starts poking their nose into the situation?
There’s another problem too.
Covering Moonlight’s palms and the pads of his fingers are numerous scratches and cuts. Are these defensive wounds? Wounds he received when Scarlet put up a struggle? Or are they offensive wounds? Wounds he couldn’t avoid when making his attack on Scarlet with a blade? The answer is not so simple since Moonlight has no idea where he acquired the wounds.
Having no choice but to take on the mission (if only to cover his own ass), Moonlight can only hope the answers to his many questions point to his former boss and not himself.
MOONLIGHT is a man, not a place, in this first-person narrative of a former police detective’s struggle to discover who done it while desperately hoping that he himself is not the who.Richard Moonlight’s confusion is understandable: he has a bullet fragment lodged in his head and, as he says of his thought processes, My right mind: it’s not always right. Despite his complicated relationships, we understand that he is at heart a righteous cop and a dogged detective. But a series of murders of individuals in his sphere have the police and Moonlight himself wondering if his head injury has rendered him intermittently incapable of knowing right from wrong.
The story moves between the present, when the action is over and Moonlight is being questioned by the FBI, and the recent past, when the suspicious events unfolded. The book’s first half comprises a police procedural interspersed with the protagonistâ€™s retelling of the events as they happened (as far as he knows). It’s a relatively straightforward tale consistent with Moonlight’s need to give a truthful rendition of events to the FBI. The drama picks up considerably in the second half, when the detective’s investigation begins to bear fruit and involves him in some messy dealings with vile characters, and the police close in on Moonlight as their only suspect in the murders.
Zandri has devised an original and engaging story in a formula befitting its detective thriller genre. Moonlight’s nemeses are several, and they range from the predictable to the quirky. The evil plot at the root of the crime spree, which is revealed only late-ish in the story, is chilling and unthinkable. We know from the outset that Moonlight survives — the FBI is debriefing him as the book opens — but his journey through the investigative process is every bit as harrowing as it needs to be to keep us turning the pages.
However, readers of this novel would be well-served by some additions. The story takes place in Albany, a real and distinctive city, but any significance of the setting is unclear, as the action could have taken place, and the characters could be found, anywhere. Further development of these characters and exposition of their relationships, in particular the influence of Moonlight’s oft-referenced dead father, would be welcome. Some discussion of the clinical effects of Moonlight’s head injury would be helpful as we attempt to understand his occasional mental lapses. As written, this book reflects the author’s extensive background as a journalist, and the style and tone are entirely satisfactory for a newspaper or magazine article, but this is fiction and more rounding out and description of the fictitious people and the actual place could take this novel from good to â€œvery good. Finally, by way of caveat to fellow picky readers, Mr. Zandri has been sadly let down by his editor and his proofreader, who could have helped keep the pace of the writing more consistent, the redundancies to a minimum, and the many errors in spelling, usage, and punctuation out of his otherwise fine book; it’s disconcerting and mood-wrecking to read that a princess doll holds a sepulcher (a scepter is more probable), and annoying to encounter frequent mix-ups of affect and effect, as two examples. The book’s value and credibility suffer somewhat from these mistakes.
The book is fun to read, the protagonist is likeable, the predicaments are believable, and the short chapters take the reader rapidly through the narration. Some new and intriguing slants on contemporary crime are presented for our consideration and delectation (and, hopefully, not initation!). In a previous review for this blog, I cautioned the reader against choosing the subject novel as light airplane reading. In the case of Moonlight Falls, if you see it in the airport bookstore on your way out of town, grab it! It’s perfect.
The reviewer extends a grateful Thank you to the author, Vincent Zandri, for the opportunity to read and comment upon this novel.
This review reflects the tastes, perceptions, and opinions of one person only and may be entirely wrong from another person’s point of view. Please read the book yourself and decide.