by Colin Harrison
First released in 1996 as Manhatten Nocturn, Colin Harrison's Manhattan Night was re-released in 2016 to coincide with its release as a movie. A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, it’s the gripping story of a smart guy who got reckless. Porter Wren, a Manhattan tabloid writer, tries to backpedal after a lapse in judgment. It’s an old premise: Beautiful woman, tempted man, and frantic attempts to hide his indiscretion from his wife. To hold onto his family when he’s blackmailed by the richest man in the city (the owner of the newspaper he works for), Wren must out-think a couple psychologically twisted people, and Porter might be the perfect man for the job.
Wren is well versed in the dark side of human nature, which he employs to keep his job; but he also has a wide streak of decency. He and his wife have made a home behind a camouflage of greenery and iron gates in a vintage house that has somehow been preserved despite progress and wrecking balls. It is in this setting that we’re allowed to see the other side of Wren.
When his ill-conceived affair threatens both his livelihood and his family, Wren is forced to probe the strength of his own morals (which have allowed him to obsess over the other woman), and he’s forced to consider how far he’ll go to avoid being the subject of a tabloid story himself.
Harrison writes beautifully and intuitively about the relationship between Wren and his wife and children. The offered glimpse of his home turf in and around Manhattan and New York surely qualifies as travelogue material. Ethnic diversity in all its splendor oozes from the block-by-block giant warren of neighborhoods, a great reason to check out Manhattan Night on its own, but there’s more.
Manhattan Night puts its own slick spin on the subjects of sex, murder and revenge, stretching out their boomerang effect in one white-knuckle chapter after another. If there's a negative, it’s that the story is depressing––genuine noir fiction at its most ugly. But if it’s the genre of your choice, save this one for a long weekend so you can immerse yourself in the carefully conceived, intricate plot. There was a master at the helm of its creation.
A version of this review was formerly published by the Internet Review of Books.ISBN: 978-1-4299-0525-1 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-0-517-58492-7 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-517-58492-7 (Hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-250-11942-1 (Paperback)
To purchase the book
Below is an excerpt from the first page of the book, a fine example of Colin Harrison's effective hook. It not only sets the mood for the story and introduces New York City and its people, but it reveals the main character’s regret. We immediately sense his shame at the job he does and wonder what's he’s going to do about it, something that’s essential to the first few pages of a book.
I SELL MAYHEM, scandal, murder, and doom. Oh, Jesus I do, I sell tragedy, vengeance, chaos, and fate. I sell the sufferings of the poor and the vanities of the rich. Children falling from windows, subway trains afire, rapist fleeing into the dark. I sell anger and redemption. I sell the muscled heroism of firemen and the wheezing greed of mob bosses. The stench of garbage, the rattle of gold. I sell black to white, white to black. To Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians and Muslims and transvestites and squatters on the Lower East Side. I sold John Gotta and O.J. Simpson and the bombers of the World Trade Center, and I'll sell whoever else comes along next. I sell falsehood and what passes for truth and every gradation in between. I sell the newborn and the dead. I sell the wretched, magnificent city of New York back to its people. I sell newspapers.
Meet our book review columnist!
Sue Ellis embarrassed herself with an English class assignment in high school, writing a heartfelt story about a girl asking permission to go on her first date, and then having to read it aloud in front of the class. It wasn't until many years later that she learned her story had been subsequently used as an example of good story writing by Mrs. Meyers, her English teacher. Fast forward forty years or so—her children and grandchildren grown, typing skills honed from years of clerical work, and suddenly online literary magazines and writing groups made it possible to immerse herself in the
new realm of writing.
Sue is thrilled by every acceptance, learning (she hopes) from rejections, thankful for the influence of Mrs. Meyers, and still a lover of books. Her short story, A Calendar of Days, can be found here:
Arrowleaf balsamroot is a plant native to eastern Washington state. Sue snapped the photo last summer while hiking with her husband and Cleo, their twenty pound chihauhau/blue heeler mix, near their home in Spokane, Washington.