Crime Pays, After All
New Jersey Monthly
A blonde divorcee is dead, her body stuffed into the trunk of a Buick by the end of the first chapter, and the work of ex-con Johnny Harrow is just beginning. "The Heartbreak Lounge" (St. Martin's Press, $22.95) is Wallace Stroby's second crime novel. Last year critics welcomed his debut, "The Barbed-Wire Kiss," with an impressive array of adjectives, like "stunning," "arresting," and "dazzling." The new book, more vivid, more muscular, is even better.
Stroby, an editor at the Star-Ledger, values an efficient sentence. As in the first book, "Heartbreak Lounge" features protagonist Harry Rane, a former New Jersey state trooper who deals with bloody crimes while trying to clean up his own personal mess. Rane pops too many painkillers and yearns unapologetically for his absent significant other. The other character that looms large is the Jersey Shore Ñ not the Shore of beach tags and flip-flops, but the real Shore, with its coffee shops, go-go bars and year-round denizens. Many scenes take place in Asbury Park locations soon to be razed, because Stroby wanted to preserve some of that desolate grandeur. "Fiction is always about the world right behind the world," says Stroby, 44, who grew up in Long Branch and lives in Ocean Grove.
Although he's been declared a crime writer to watch by more than one reviewer, Stroby is wary of the praise. "You can't skate anymore. There are people working in the genre who are really, really good," he says. "My goal is to continue to write books that I'm not embarrassed about."