The Swamps of Jersey by Michael Stephen Daigle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ironton, New Jersey has seen hard times before. Deserted factories and empty stores reflect the decades-long decline, that even Mayor Gabriel Richman, scion of one of the city’s leading political families, cannot seem to rectify. Now families are living on the street or in the shells of the old factories.
A week-long tropical storm floods the depressed city bringing more devastation as well as a new misery: The headless, handless body of a young woman in the Old Iron Bog.
Between the gruesome murder and an old factory suspiciously burning down, Detective Frank Nagler begins to believe that incarcerated Charlie Adams, the city’s famous serial killer, may have fostered a copycat killer. Determined to find the truth, he follows the case that leads into unexpected places.
Are you looking for a good mystery? This one just may fit the bill for you but I have to say it’s far from your typical “whodunit”; I think that’s one of the main reasons I really enjoyed it.
Detective Frank Nagler grew up in Ironton, NJ. It’s the once thriving town of his youth that holds happy memories of days gone by; sadly today like many older towns with a factory at its core it’s merely a ghost of its former glory. The factories and stores that once stood proud and employed the community helping to support the economy are now nothing more than abandoned and neglected shells of what they once were; the only souls who go there now are junkies, bums, and the homeless seeking shelter. Still, he stays. The town holds the same melancholy Frank seems to have, perhaps that’s why he stays?
Late one dreary night during a week-long tropical storm a body is found in Old Iron Bog and Frank is forced to haul his butt out of bed to investigate the scene. The body of a young woman has been brutally hacked to pieces, her head and hands removed presumably to hide her identity. Immediately people start drawing comparisons to a serial killer from a few years back (another case Nagler had worked…by the way I would love to read that story). Frank’s confident this isn’t the work of that killer but wonders if it’s possibly a potential copy-cat? So much about this crime scene just doesn’t add up. Why dump her here when there are plenty of other better places to conceal a body where she would never be found? Why dismember her? What did she know that someone didn’t want anyone finding out about?
This launches a series of questions that begin to expose much more than a murder; there’s a spider web of political corruption starting to unravel within the community. Frank picks up a string or two from that web, tugs at them…and watches as it slowly collapses. Could the murder of the woman found in the bog be connected? Did the sudden disappearance of a woman Frank had loved have anything to do with it? Working with Jimmy Dawson, a local reporter, Nagler begins to fit the strands of the web in place and you as the reader are snagged!
So, what did I like so much about this story. Was it the intrigue? Well, honestly. No. There was intrigue, but not the suspenseful type of intrigue I have experienced in other mysteries. I found this story had me asking questions along with Det. Nagler. In a way I guess I could describe it as I felt like I was along for the ride, almost as if I were included in the story as an observer and I maintained that feeling throughout the story. There’s nothing much more satisfying to me than really feeling part of the story I’m reading.
Mr. Daigle has such a real talent for description too; this is something I have complained about in the past with other authors I have read. That’s a non-existent issue in this book however. Mr. Daigle doesn’t just tell us how something looks or smells, it’s not a mere description that sets a scene…he paints such a vivid picture that you are right there, smack dab in the middle of everything. You can feel the breeze, smell the stench of the flooded streets and riverbank…feel what it’s like to be in an abandoned building with junkies and bums; it’s very visceral. There’s one section that comes to mind immediately from chapter six where Jimmy Dawson writes an article for the Sunday political column that absolutely left me going “Wow, I wish I could write like that! You tell em Jimmy!” Mr. Daigle elicited an actual verbal response from me…what more can I ask for?
So, as I said at the beginning of this review, this isn’t your typical mystery. There is no hero doggedly pursuing leads and clues to tie up the case in a neat little package with a bow on top. No, instead Mr. Daigle takes you on a ride as an observer to watch it all unravel….and you’ll love it!
Note* As you may have noticed this cover appears in the banner on my page. In case you haven’t read any of my other posts the reason it appears there is because I am the fortunate individual who had the opportunity to read this story before the public and create the cover for Mr. Daigle’s story.
Many review websites won’t allow me to post a review for a book where my name appears (it’s inside in the legaleze portion crediting me for the artwork) and I can understand why, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a valid opinion about it so I use my blog as an avenue to voice that opinion. Rest assured, I give my true opinion just as I would in any other review.
If you would like to see how I came up with the artwork, here’s a link to that blog post…https://greeneyedirishlass.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/the-swamps-of-jersey/.
Thanks, Anita. You nailed the essence of “Swamps” and Frank Nagler better than I could, and I wrote it.
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