Thursday, June 7, 2018


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

William Boyle's The Lonely Witness is a knockout combination of in-depth character work, Brooklyn atmosphere and straight-up gritty noir. The devotion Boyle (Gravesend) demonstrates for character, story and place is perhaps the one unadulterated emotion on display in a story imbued with ambiguous morality and loyalty.

When Amy Falconetti's girlfriend Alessandra leaves her to pursue a career in Hollywood, she rebounds by quitting her bar job, ditching her semi-goth style, moving into a basement apartment and returning to church. Wanting to be of service, Amy volunteers as a Eucharistic minister, providing communion to house-bound parishioners. When elderly Mrs. Epifanio expresses concern that her caregiver's son Victor has been coming in her stead and shutting himself in Mrs. E's bedroom, Amy takes it upon herself to investigate.

Surreptitiously trailing Victor stirs up Amy's childhood recollections of repeatedly following a neighbor she witnessed committing an act of violence. Tracking Victor provides a sense of control over her present turmoil and traumatic memories, but Amy is soon caught up in a risky game she can't, and might not want to, escape.

Boyle beautifully uses the first half of the narrative to set the stage for a volatile, fast-moving back end. The potential cost of Amy continuing her behavior is ramped up by the sudden return of Alessandra and the appearance of Amy's long-thought-dead father, who is willing to do anything to earn her favor.

STREET SENSE:  The Lonely Witness is a fabulous character piece wrapped in layers of intrigue and subterfuge.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  I'm hard to please when it comes to writing about atmosphere and sense of place, and since Boyle kicked atmosphere's ass (it became one of my favorite facets of the book), I thought that's what I would share:

The avenue is crowded and alive, but it seems to be dying at the same time. Closed riot gates full of rust and graffiti. Battered El columns in the street spidering along endlessly. People tossing away their garbage as they walk--abandoned scratch-offs, beer cans in brown paper bags, pages from a child's coloring book. Half-hearted new construction projects all around, paired with a roof caving in here, a broken window there. Graffiti over a beautiful half-hidden old shoe store sign. Everything feeling partly poisonous. Or poisoned. Here are men with decaying teeth, with decaying smiles, and women trudging along with their shoulders hunched. A bike without wheels is chained to a lamppost.

COVER NERD SAYS: I dig it. Love the moodiness of the image, which is perfect for the content. The typeface size, font and palette all meld with and stand out from (without distracting from, a very fine edge to walk) the image. And the lonely "O." This is great cover work that seems to have been well thought out, and I'm sure there are aspects of it I'm missing.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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