"Asbury Park" Book Review
Written by Rob Scott
2012, 504 pages, Fiction
Released on July 1st, 2012
Last year, author Rob Scott made my top-ten list with 15 Miles, the first book in the Sailor Doyle series. When I heard about Asbury Park, the second installment, I was excited. Despite my enthusiasm, there was also a bit of fear: just like musicians, many authors succumb to the curse of a weak sophomore effort. After finishing the book, I can tell you this: Scott matched the dark aura, clever writing, outstanding storytelling, and superb character development displayed in 15 Miles...and then surpassed it.
Asbury Park kicks off ten weeks after Homicide Detective Sailor Doyle worked his first solo case, a gruesome double murder in a remote farmhouse in Virginia. He was dealing with an Oxycontin addiction, a marriage on a downward spiral, and alcoholism. Still, he managed to solve the case and avert a disaster. In the process, he got shot in the shoulder and leg. Now Sailor is recuperating with his family at a beach house in Belmar, on the New Jersey shore. His body is broken and craving booze and prescription drugs. Sailor is trying to keep that under control while mending his shattered relationship with his wife. Instead of exercise and relaxation, the detective finds something else in Asbury Park. It starts when he meets Mark "Moses" Stillman, a former minor league baseball player whose wife and daughter drowned in the ocean off Belmar years earlier. As they get acquainted over a cup of coffee before daybreak, a body falls from the sky and crashes through their table. The apparent suicide doesn't feel right to Sailor, and his presence doesn't sit well with the local authorities.
The next day, he spots a shady youngster who's about to enter a school. A misunderstanding leaves Sailor battered, the kid dead, and a mess for the police that threatens to become a race riot. Instead of concentrating on healing, the detective decides to investigate the deaths. What follows is a whirlwind of sinister visions, lies, marital tension, physical pain, songs that come from nowhere, ghosts that claim for justice, and a strange conspiracy that goes back to 1975 and reaches the upper echelons of the US and Canadian governments.
Reviewers read a lot more than the average person, so they're entitled to make powerful statements once in a while. Here's one: Rob Scott is one of the most talented and entertaining writers in fiction today. There's no such thing as perfect prose, but Scott's blend of honesty, gloom, and humor push him close to flawlessness. In Asbury Park, the story is carried by the author's writing in a way that amuses and keeps the reader hooked even when there's a break in the action. To top it all off, Scott has a gift for storytelling and constructs a mystery that simply keeps you turning pages.
This book is about ghosts, politics, and vengeance as much as it is about love, suffering, and human weaknesses. The multilayered narrative is never dull and keeps a great balance between flashes of humor, anxiety, horror, home life, mystery, and violence. With Sailor Doyle, Scott has created a flawed, likeable character that works perfectly as the narrator for a story that shifts seamlessly between things as diverse as conjugal crises and a trip to the bottom of the ocean with the rotting corpse of a dead woman.
Asbury Park is more of what made 15 Miles so good: a noir-esque police procedural with a heavy dose of creepy psychological horror and a few supernatural elements sprinkled in at the right time. This is not a regular horror story or a crime novel; it's a mixture of both that keeps the tension high and the surprises coming for more than 500 pages. That is no easy task, and Scott has now pulled it off twice. With one more Sailor Doyle book coming, you should read Asbury Park right now. And don't worry about having to read it again when the last installment comes out: the ghosts in these pages will definitely haunt your bookshelf and memory for a long time to come.