MysteryPeople Review: THE POOR BOY’S GAME


The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

If there was any justice in publishing, Dennis Tafoya would be a name everyone would know.  With only two books, Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park, his ability to convey the hardship and raw emotion of people on the margins has already made him a respected voice in the genre. No punches are pulled in his delivery, and though it’s been a few years, Tafoya’s back in full force with his third novel, The Poor Boy’s Game.

Following Frannie Mullen, a US Marshal, the book begins with a well-crafted buildup to a shootout in downtown Philadelphia. Frannie goes into what appears to be a routine take-down in a sports memorabilia store, but then, things go wrong. And once the shooting starts, Tafoya captures the brutality of every bullet, including the one that takes out Frannie’s partner.

Blamed for the shooting, Frannie resigns from the Marshals and is caught in a dark limbo connected with her past. That past suddenly comes charging back when Frannie’s father, Patrick Mullen, a brutal union enforcer, escapes from federal prison, leaving behind a bloody trail of witnesses. It’s up to Frannie to protect her newly sober sister, Mae, and Patrick’s pregnant girlfriend from her father, putting Frannie between the feds who think she helped him escape and union boss Adolf White, who knows the truth behind Patrick’s rampage.

While The Poor Boy’s Game has all the trappings of a great hard boiled novel, the story is, essentially, the portrait of a family. Tafoya shows us the cracks and fissures parents can create in the relationships between siblings. He shows how familial love, no matter how broken or twisted, can survive. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not this is good or bad.

The Poor Boy’s Game is Dashiell Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neill. It puts us in the grimy world of the Mullens, letting us feel every drop of cold sweat. The dialogue is that of a darker Elmore Leonard and can be as harrowing as some of the fight scenes. The Poor Boy’s Game is a crime thriller that shows how a bruised heart still beats. Welcome back to the game, Dennis. It’s good to have you.

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Dennis Tafoya leads a free writing workshop here at BookPeople this Thursday, May 1 at 6:30pm. Bring a pen and paper and join us up on the third floor. No registration or RSVP required. 

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