Friday, September 03, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books--"The Concrete Maze" by Steven Torres

First, let me apologize for missing FFB last week. Physical limitations prevented me from posting anything and as a result, I missed last Friday. No improvement and still more tests are planned next week. In the meantime and more importantly, this week’s Friday’s Forgotten Books is on The Concrete Maze by Steven Torres. A good mystery that should appeal to crime readers, noir readers, and just about anyone that likes a good complex tale.

Family is often a background element in mystery fiction. Beyond the obvious biological family, detectives often have an extended family of sorts that they rely on for assistance. That isn't the case here where Marc has a very involved biological family, a problem that won't be solved easily, and virtually zero outside assistance.

The year is 1992 and the setting is New York City as this suspenseful novel opens. Luis (Tio) Ramos left Puerto Rico years ago when he was drafted by the Army and sent to Vietnam. He saw combat, much of which he does not talk about, was wounded as well and survived the war to ultimately settle in NYC and raise a family. Now his daughter, Jasmine, who recently turned thirteen and hit that horrible acting out phase all teenagers go through to some degree or another, is missing. Tio has searched a little and now has come to his nephew, Marc, a cynical young man, to help him look.

From the start this isn't something Marc wants to do but he really doesn't have a choice as he can't say no to Tio. They begin a search for Jasmine at the local indoor skating hangout known as "The Skate Key" counting on Marc's age as being a way to get other teens to talk. As they begin to look for her and ask questions they run into a wall of police indifference based on racism, kids that won't talk for a variety of reasons, and drug dealers that rule the streets. Tio Ramos is going to attack the problem the same way that he dealt with the Viet Cong in the jungles of Vietnam. He embarks on a search and destroy mission with one goal—to get his daughter Jasmine back and everyone else, including his nephew Marc is expendable.

While NYC isn't Vietnam, the enemy is just as tenacious and dug in with the concrete streets and alleyways serving as his jungle. The characters make frequent forays out into various areas of the city searching for information, fight skirmishes and battles, before returning to their homes for food and a few hours of sleep. That military aspect of the work where the concrete city is the urban jungle and just as deadly as the jungle in some far off war zone is clichéd and yet it works well as does the pain of a missing child, a parent's worst nightmare as the cliché goes, a universal truth that almost anyone can relate to. That certainly is true here and something that Author Steven Torres uses to full chilling effect.

As he does the cynical world weary young college age student, Marc. Tio's nephew, Marc often sounds far older than his years and routinely expresses a cynical view of life, the world, and his family's place in things. Well aware that nothing can be fixed or reversed, he seeks to get the hunt for Jasmine over as fast as possible. Not because Jasmine could very well be in serious danger, but because he finds it all a bit much as she certainly needs to learn a lesson and besides that he has things to do. That sets up quickly a conflict between Tio, who sees family as everything and a reason for being, and Marc, who sees family as a burden to be tolerated.

Of course that results in conflict about strategies to employ in the search for Jasmine as well as how to deal with the other characters inside and outside of the family. While that conflict, that attention to detail could overwhelm the main theme of the work which is the hunt for Jasmine, it doesn't. Instead, it adds a depth and richness to a read full of intriguing characters, plenty of action and a twisting case which ultimately results in an intense and suspenseful novel.

The Concrete Maze

By Steven Torres

Leisure Books

August 2007

ISBN # 978-0-8439-5969-7

Mass Market Paperback

284 Pages

Material supplied by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007, 2010


Todd Mason said...

May good reading help, Kevin.

George said...

THE CONCRETE MAZE sounds like my kind of book. I'll have to track it down. Leisure Books published a surprising number of good books. Of course, they published a lot of crap, too.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

It is a good one and I thank you both for reading and commenting.

Bill Crider said...

Good pick. Too bad this book didn't make more of a splash when it was published.

Good luck with those tests.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Yes, I wonder why it didn't, Bill. It should have.

And thank you. Much appreciated.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read and liked it too. And a nice guy to boot.