Staten Island comes alive in new thriller

“Madman’s Thirst,” by Lawrence De Maria. St. Austin’s Press. $4.99 e-book.

“Madman’s Thirst” is the second “Jake Scarnes” novel, following “Sound of Blood.” The author has also launched a second series with “Capriati’s Blood” featuring Alton Rhode. While the first Scarnes novel is available as a trade paperback, the other two thrillers by Mr. De Maria are so far offered only in e-book format. Regarding trends in book publication, the future is now.

Who would want a sweet high school beauty like Elizabeth Pearsall murdered? The two contract killers who tail her home from school could care less. It’s a payday. They plan to make the murder look like a botched robbery, but one member of the team, Lucas Gallo, gets carried away and rapes her. His partner in the caper, a cancer-ridden old pro named Banaszak, is disgusted. In the world of Jake Scarnes, any lowlife can have a bit of conscience. Banaszak kills Gallo and manages things so that there is no corpse to discover.

What’s likely is that Elizabeth’s father, the prizewinning newspaper editor of the “Richmond Register” (Staten Island, NY), is being sent a message. He leaves town in a hurry. What has he been poking into? Well, someone with a shoddy reputation, a former plastic surgeon named Nathan Bimm, has been adding to his real estate investments, buying up land on opposite ends of Staten Island. There is some talk of a NASCAR race track on one of the sites. Influence-peddling is rampant. A major crime family is involved, perhaps even the borough president. Two of Robert Pearsall’s best reporters have been digging into Bimm’s activities. Now Pearsall’s daughter is raped and slaughtered. The botched robbery ploy doesn’t hold up for long. 

A guy named Dudley Mack, an Irish gangster and funeral parlor tycoon, has a moral code of sorts. When he hears about a mysterious confession to a priest, perhaps by Banaszak, Mack gets his old buddy, private detective Jake Scarnes, involved.

From here on in, readers can enjoy Jake’s mix of cerebral and bull-headed detection. Strange thing, though, every lead he gets leads to someone who’s just been killed. Who is snuffing out all those who know about what lies behind the crime before Jake can extract new information? And just what does lie behind the race to buy up all that real estate?

Lawrence De Maria

Interesting characters abound. There is gorgeous and brainy Emerald (“Emma”) Shields, rising star in the Shields family’s media empire, Jake is strongly attracted to her, but she seems interested in a Donald Trump wannabe named Aristotle Arachne. What’s going on? Arachne is clearly among those involved in whatever Dr. Bimm has been up to. There is Jake’s secretary, Evelyn Warr, a great sounding board for the private eye and capable in every way. There is Beldon Popp, managing editor at the “Richmond Register,” whom Jake thinks is spending way too much time in the company of the rich and famous.

The real hero of the book may well be Staten Island itself. For all his attention to character and plot, Mr. De Maria does nothing better than evoking the feel of this forlorn piece of New York City. He lovingly paints its neighborhoods, restaurants, and saloons; its government buildings; its poorly maintained streets and facades; its history, sounds, and smells. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 21, 2012 issues of the Naples Florida Weekly and the Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda edition, click here: Florida Weekly – De Maria pdf

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