Where Have You Gone Without Me? is a recently published crime thriller novel by Peter Bonventre, a longtime journalist and award-winning sportswriter. The story follows Eddie Sabella, a 37-year-old hot shot reporter and columnist at a tabloid newspaper in New York City. The year is 2006, when a local church is rocked by a supposed miracle: their statue of St. Joseph appears to be crying real tears. Eddie gets an exclusive thanks to a tip and at first things play out like any other story for him, who is ever on the prowl for the next subject of his column. It soon becomes the story of a lifetime, however, after the statue is stolen, putting Eddie in contact with a colourful cast of characters including restaurateurs, aging mobsters, and a long lost love who up and disappeared on him 15 years before.
Crime thrillers are not a genre of books in my usual wheelhouse, so when I received a review request for this book I was intrigued by the opportunity to read something a little different. It took a little while for me to warm up to this book, and part of this had to do with the way the reader is introduced to the book’s intrepid protagonist. Departing from his apartment for work, Eddie runs into one of his neighbors, who it turns out is in a grim state after having just murdered his wife with a golf club. He’s already called the police on himself, but Eddie has run into him before their arrival. Always ready to pounce on an exclusive, Eddie questions the man about what happened and writes a story about it for his column.
I found the effect of such an introduction rather double-edged. On the one hand, it does give the reader an immediate grasp of why he’s so good at his job: in the face of a disturbing situation he shows great composure and determination, unafraid to pursue as much information from a subject as he can. On the other hand, as time went on from the actual moment he continued to be so emotionally detached about the whole affair, even crass, that I found him alienating. On top of this, it took a little while for the story to ramp up to the theft of the statue, so without being hooked by the character right away and Bonventre taking his time to set up the statue’s disappearance, it felt for a while like the book might be a little aimless.
Fortunately, despite this hiccup, Eddie started to grow on me as his more affable nature shone through and this initial incident felt more like an anomaly. What I came to appreciate all the more was the fairly understated way that the case around the statue developed. I suppose I had been expecting some sort of shoe-dropping moment where the story would take a sensational turn. Instead, as more players in the case were revealed, there was a moment where everything started clicking into place in a meaningful way, which won me over. The parade of seemingly mundane events coalesced into something more interconnected.
You could be forgiven for expecting a “whodunit” sort of story around the statue’s theft, but at a certain turn it quickly became apparent that it is much more concerned with making the reader wonder why, rather than who. I was still left in suspense as to how everything would pan out, but the identity of the culprits was not the ultimate concern. Getting all the facts together to resolve this case is the crux of the story, but Eddie’s journalistic approach to it was an interestingly unique angle. He’s concerned with getting the truth, but will push for information that may not be relevant to directly solving the case, yet is very important to crafting a great story about it. He’s got a good instinct for tugging on the right threads in someone’s personal history and unearthing connections.
In this way, Eddie is less compelling as a character on his own and more a great vehicle for the reader to learn about other characters he either directly interacts with while chasing information, or indirectly with readers of his column, who become involved in some way after reading his initial story about the crying statue. The strong personalities of the book’s ever-growing cast was one of its best qualities. The banter between characters was most often snappy and fun to read, doing a great deal to evoke individual personalities. Many characters had fairly limited roles, yet left a distinct impression on me. In a short amount of time I often felt I had a good grasp on who they are as people.
At times, the writing around characters could also be a little overly indulgent in detail. In some cases this would be as minor as focusing a little too much on their attire and tastes in a given scene, while others involved a lot of backstory being divulged that ultimately felt unnecessary. One such character, while playing a key role in a certain plot point, wound up literally fleeing the narrative, making all of the time spent on his sordid history feel like a waste. It was hit a miss a little too often, these details sometimes adding to a scene and at others feeling like padding.
The book’s subplot, which sees Eddie reuniting with his first love, Phyllis Blake, who ghosted him 15 years previously, didn’t really work for me. He never got over her, so the case around the statue inadvertently bringing her back into his life knocks him off balance. Aside from the case being a catalyst, however, she really doesn’t have anything to do with it. Her return adds no stakes to Eddie’s investigation, which at best only posed marginal risk for him already. There were some effective moments of the will they/won’t they that I did get a little swept away by, though, and this subplot also offered the best insight into who Eddie is when he isn’t working. Nevertheless, the way it ended was pretty much a foregone conclusion for me. It’s a shame it wasn’t more interwoven, especially since the title of the book itself seems to refer to their reunion and the baggage that comes along with it.
Where Have You Gone Without Me? is an intriguing crime thriller with a journalistic edge that shines its brightest during the banter between its distinct cast of characters. The mystery itself was appreciably understated, keeping its colourful characters surprisingly down to earth despite some of their bombastic personalities. The way the whole situation resolved wrapped up a little to quickly for me, but I was nevertheless satisfied with what unfolded. I do wish that Eddie had more at stake in the book as a whole, however, and that the writing’s more indulgent qualities had been more reeled in. Nevertheless, it was a lively and enjoyable read.
My Rating: 3 out of 5
I received a digital Advance Reading Copy of this book from Turner Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion. This has in no way impacted my review.