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FBI’s Comey Commits an Act of Crime Fiction
Central Park West is a fail safe airport wanderer's book
James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has written a novel.
No surprise. Big-time political players write novels all the time—Jimmy Carter, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli. Insiders! Lawyer/novelist Michael Connelly blurbs Comey’s novel by saying he “knows this world like the back of his hand.”
Writing a novel isn’t that hard, as long as the author isn’t trying to make it literature. There is no sign Comey is trying to make this novel literature.
It’s called Central Park West, as if we’re in for a big social novel giving the lowdown on the higher-ups. We aren’t. This is a crime procedural with three murders and a lot of courtroom action sprinkled with nifty details and the trick of doing narrative exposition through testimony.
The very first sentence hits us with nifty details: a seen-it-all doorman, bright blonde hair, Jackie O sunglasses, an Hermes scarf and a black Prada gabardine raincoat. One sentence!
Comey seems to have thought of his novel as a movie. Sometimes he describes characters by saying they look like movie actors—Denis Leary or Grace Kelly in the case of the dead ex-governor’s first wife, who walks “on black patent Christian Louboutin stilettos, below a black Chanel wool skirt and matching half-sleeved black button-front jacket with a turndown-style collar.”
These are the details that cry out to customers in airport bookstores—brand names, fashion jargon, cliches, stereotypes, celebrity references. Comey tows these details through the reader’s mind the way little airplanes tow advertising banners over summer beaches.
There’s more: the Mafia, a recovering alcoholic, a doorman’s son who goes to Yale with Mafia money, an Asian prosecutor, and women, women, women: a stone-cold hitwoman, a Black woman FBI agent, women who gold-dig, a woman judge, a single mother prosecutor with an adorable six-year-old daughter who gets threatened by some insane goombah who ends up in the Gowanus Canal. And a woman who gets elected governor of New York (with no mention of a campaign) and, of course, lesbians (though no sex!). Women galore.
Comey seems to know which side his novelistic bread is buttered on, women being an overwhelming majority of fiction readers. Three of his women even look like each other, leading to the impossible mistaken identity the whole plot hinges on. To make it work, Comey has to sucker the reader as well.
When the doorman thinks the bright-blonde woman heading upstairs is the ex-Mrs. Burke and then, upstairs, ex-Gov. Burke says, “What the hell are you doing here?” the reader is apt to believe that the woman is the ex-Mrs. Burke. Oh ho, fool that you are: it’s a Mafia hitwoman named Gina Cufaro whose bright-blonde wig has fooled the doorman even though he has known the ex for years.
From this trick springs the murder trial of the ex. An innocent woman faces life in jail! But then, a Gambino-family capo in another trial tells the prosecutors that Gina killed ex-Gov. Burke. Gina shoots the capo in a strangely gentle scene, his body crumpling from two bullets in the forehead with all the excitement of a Kleenex falling to the floor.
No sex, no violence—is this what women want from a crime novel?
Then there are the insider gimmicks. A couple is named Nick and Nora, a play on the Thin Man movies of the 1930s. The novel’s fictional lawyer for the Gambino family is a bald guy named Butler, a little joke for those who recall that the real Gambino mouthpiece, John Gotti’s lawyer, was a bald guy named Cutler.
The appeal to women even extends to grousing about the Mafia’s refusal to have women as “made guys.” Though Gina, with a long list of victims, wins their respect, at least until the prosecutors identify her through her habitual Starbucks order (another nifty detail, the “secret-menu” Grande Frappuccino with blended biscotti cookie and one pump of white mocha syrup). Could this be the ultimate “hitwoman” version of the Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino on Starbucks’ internet menu? Only a former director of the FBI may know for sure.
Somehow, readers think James Comey knows something they don’t. The inside dope, the real skinny. Further, some fool thinks he’s going to share it with them. It’s hard to imagine what secrets James Comey could have after being kicked all over the landscape by both Republicans and Democrats and all the media during his aborted career as FBI director. If he has any, they are still safe. And literature is safe from James Comey.###
Henry Allen, a longtime feature writer at The Washington Post, is the author of the 1984 thriller Fool’s Mercy. He won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2000.
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