Stephen Solomita Essay - Critical Essays


Stephen Solomita knows and obviously has great affection for New York City and its residents. He lovingly describes local landmarks, particularly in his home territory of the Lower East Side, but he is also well versed in the unique qualities of boroughs throughout the sprawling metropolis, from Yonkers to Brooklyn, and from Manhattan to Montauk Point at the eastern extreme of Long Island. Solomita understands the pulse of the city whether detailing rush-hour traffic jams or late-night parties.

Solomita’s characters range across the social scale, but he holds a particular fondness for ordinary people: hardworking shopkeepers, cynical bartenders, and crime-weary police officers. His heroes and villains are drawn from all ethnic types—haughty white people, devout Orthodox Jews, rapping African Americans, Italian restaurateurs, Irish toughs, and Russian mobsters. Characters, particularly in Moodrow novels, speak an authentic patois, full of ungrammatical street slang, crude humor, and profanity, sprinkled with colorful expressions in native tongues.

Plots in Solomita’s novels cover the full gamut of criminal behavior: rape, murder, kidnapping, drug dealing, and spousal and child abuse. Thematically, the author is an advocate for law and order. Crimes—often shown to be the result of bad upbringing, the pressures of society, unfair happenstance, or just plain evil lurking in the hearts of men and women—typically do not go unpunished.

Stylistically, Solomita writes straightforward prose without much reliance on literary devices; his characters carry the story. While there is occasional humor, mostly in the form of salty exchanges, and now and then a simile to fix an image in the reader’s mind, the narrative usually moves forward without many side trips. Most of his works are written in third person. In structure, they typically begin with a dramatic incident or a crisis situation that sets the story in motion, and Solomita is skilled at inventing obstacles for protagonists that increase anxiety and tighten suspense. Although the majority of his work is decidedly hard-boiled, especially the Moodrow series and nonseries novels like Keeplock, the author is not afraid to experiment with a lighter tone, as in Dead Is Forever. Solomita’s best novels are those closest to his own firsthand knowledge—which portray the sights, sounds, and smells of the street while they deal with crimes that affect the reader at gut level.

Bad to the Bone

In Bad to the Bone, Connie Alamare, a wealthy romance novelist, hires private eye Stanley Moodrow to investigate the circumstances behind the comatose condition of her daughter Florence “Flo” Alamare and to retrieve her grandson. Flo was a bonding mother to children—including her own son, Billy—born at a Lower East Side pseudo-religious cult and commune called Hanover House. The commune, under the leadership of sinister Davis Craddock, on the surface is an organization that remolds society’s misfits into productive citizens. However, it is actually a front for the distribution of a new, potentially lethal designer drug called PURE, which is ten times as addictive as heroin. In the course of setting up and protecting the clandestine drug operation, Craddock and his minions resort to kidnapping, sexual orgies, child abuse, and murder. Once the manufacture and distribution of PURE is under way, Craddock intends to take the millions gained from the sale of the drug and flee to South America.

Using resources from his lifetime of law enforcement and relying on his former partner Jim Tilley for inside information, Moodrow probes for legal weak spots in the commune’s defenses and slowly closes in on Craddock. Tension mounts as Moodrow’s...

(The entire section is 1544 words.)