Book review: The dark streets of Boston

Adam Abramowitz works magic in bringing the buried history of Boston’s secrets to life in the funny, manic ‘A Town Called Malice.’

Construction workers inspect the ceiling inside the Big Dig tunnel on Interstate 90 after a portion of the highway’s ceiling collapsed, killing a woman in South Boston in 2006. (photo credit: JESSICA RINALDI / REUTERS)
Construction workers inspect the ceiling inside the Big Dig tunnel on Interstate 90 after a portion of the highway’s ceiling collapsed, killing a woman in South Boston in 2006.
You don’t need to have a deep affection for Boston to enjoy Adam Abramowitz’s sophomore fictional effort, A Town Called Malice, but it sure helps.
And if you lived in the city during the late 1970s-early 1980s, when Beantown boasted one of the most vibrant musical scenes in the US, then you’ll enjoy it even more.
Abramowitz, who grew up in gritty Allston and the South End, has Boston steeped inside his blood. His 2017 debut novel Bosstown introduced Zesty Meyers, a wisecracking, underachieving, bike-riding courier with a knack for getting mixed up in crime scenes, police investigations and gang warfare all against the backdrop of the city’s back alleys juxtaposed against the new money and runaway development of the post Big-Dig Boston and a slew of dark, family secrets.
A Town Called Malice picks up where the frenetic pace of Bosstown left off. When a 1970s local rock & roll hero, who mysteriously left town, resurfaces in search of his “murdered” ex-girlfriend, it starts the wheels turning in a high-speed caper full of intrigue, humor, danger and more Boston-area settings and references than you can count. From the pristine campus of MIT to the comedy clubs of Washington Street to the brownstones of Beacon Hill, nothing is as it seems in Abramowitz’s Boston.
“Boston used to be a great city to be a screw-up; it welcomed f***-ups and young people who took a little longer to become who they were going to become,” Abramowitz told The Jerusalem Post. “Rents were affordable in many sections, you could have a sh***y job and live independently, carve out a space to pursue your passions. That’s changed I think.”
THE AUTHOR, who is the brother of local Israeli celebrity Yosef Abramowitz (Kaptain Sunshine), does a great job in showing the intersection of the old and new Boston, adeptly weaving the various plotlines together, introducing a series of well-developed characters and even bringing attention to Zesty’s Jewishness.
Amid the high-speed chases, Kenmore Square private eye trysts and high-stakes poker fronts that fuel the narrative, there’s a poignancy of Zesty and his brother coping with their father, a Boston legend, who is deteriorating with Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I brought Zesty’s Jewishness a bit more forward for a couple of reasons,” Abramowitz said. “One has to do with what I think of as the thread of memory woven with tradition. Though Zesty’s dad suffers from ever-worsening Alzheimer’s, music triggers memory for him and I feel like the traditions of Judaism [like the Kaddish] act in much the same way; it triggers something deep inside us and though we might forget specifics [time, events, what we were thinking at particular moments], it brings back what we were feeling or how we felt about someone in particular – we remember.
“The other reason I brought it in was because I feel that in some ways the ‘Jewish Voice’ in books has tended to be a little more cultivated and cultured [and this might be nothing more than me not reading enough], but I wanted to show readers something else, someone who is not heard from often – the slacker Jew with an ethical and moral range that goes from high to low depending on his loyalties and the situations he finds himself in. I mean, in general, this is a voice I don’t think we get much from in crime fiction and I just wanted to be heard; to let readers, particularly those who know Boston, know that it took all kinds to make this city great and lay the foundation for what it’s become [for better or worse].”
Perhaps in homage to his brother – and to his sister-in-law, Rabbi Susan Silverman – Abramowitz also includes two characters – Zesty’s sister-in-law and an unemployed, burly rabbi who once served in the IDF – to the mix.
“I think Israel creates Jewish characters with a toughness and guile that American Jews don’t necessarily need to have because they don’t really feel the threat of the world’s antisemitic leanings,” said Abramowitz. “I like the flavor they bring to Zesty’s family, that next-level toughness and world-view.”
Full of colorful characters, snappy repartee and mile-a-minute plot twists, A Town Called Malice is a riveting page-turner. The icing on the cake, for this reader, are the recurring passages focusing on Zesty’s condition due to a bike accident. In those passages, he hears music in his head like white noise, always plugged into a cosmic station that plays tracks by long-forgotten, but much loved, Boston bands like The Atlantics, The Neighborhood and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters.
A Town Called Malice possesses a beating heart that’s synchronized with the city it’s based in. Even if you didn’t know Boston before, you will emerge an expert. Or so you may think.
I think Boston was a place that willingly buried its secrets and divisions, and the Big Dig didn’t necessarily bring everything up to the surface, but it sure paved over a lot of that history,” said Abramowitz.
In A Town Called Malice, Abramowitz works magic in dredging up part of that buried history and making it come to life.

Tags Boston