There is a vignette in BRIGHTON that is frozen in my mind. It consists of a momentous meeting in a Boston dive bar, during which conversation of some foreboding importance takes place while “Wonderful Remark” by Van Morrison plays incongruently but nonetheless perfectly in the background. It doesn’t get much better than that, but BRIGHTON --- a stand-alone crime story by veteran grammar-miner Michael Harvey --- is full of scenes like that, wonderfully told and beautifully done.
BRIGHTON is split roughly into two parts. The first takes place in the book’s past among Boston’s working class poor. Kevin Pearce is 15 years old, an athlete and a scholar who represents his Brighton neighborhood’s best bet of rising above his background. No one is a bigger fan of his than his best friend, Bobby Scales. Their friendship is unusual and unexpected. Bobby is older and capable of sudden, though focused, violence, balancing Kevin’s bookish intelligence with his own canny street smarts. When Kevin takes it upon himself to bring down the finality of some harsh street justice on a local character, it’s Bobby who ensures that he’s well clear of the scene and Brighton, sending him away with the instruction never to return.
"My copy of BRIGHTON is full of underlined passages and phrases --- it’s how I measure whether or not a book is a keeper --- that you will want to carry with you as well... dark, gritty and beautiful..."
In the book’s present day, the adult Kevin comes back to the old neighborhood, just before the official announcement that he has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. He has learned that his old friend Bobby, who he has not seen in decades, is suspected of being the doer in a series of murders. Bobby is a successful career criminal, and while he demonstrates during the course of the novel that he is certainly capable of murder, there is room for doubt that he would be guilty of the murders for which he may well be charged. Kevin feels an obligation to return Bobby’s favor after all these years, but Bobby is concerned that Kevin’s reappearance will cause him to be tainted by the act that they shared from their adolescence.
It turns out that both men have more to worry about than they know, and from a source closer to each of them than they might think. Harvey also tosses in a mystery that doesn’t even show up on the radar as such until the climax approaches, making the sins of those assembled all the more surprising. By story’s end, there is the opportunity for redemption, and a final balancing of the books in ways expected and otherwise.
My copy of BRIGHTON is full of underlined passages and phrases --- it’s how I measure whether or not a book is a keeper --- that you will want to carry with you as well and more than balances out the one or two occasions where Harvey overreaches in a metaphor. I highly recommend putting this dark, gritty and beautiful novel at the top of your must-read list.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 17, 2016