Review of the Cold Room by Robert Knightly



The Cold Room by Robert Knightly as reviewed by Marilyn Meredith

This is the second book of Bob Knightly’s I’ve read, the first being Bodies in Winter. What I liked best about both books is they are more authentic as a police procedural than many I’ve read. NYPD detective Harry Corbin is a different kind of cop. He’s not a super hero nor is he loved by all of his fellow cops. In Bodies in Winter, Corbin exposes a twisted web of corruption among the police ranks and superiors which didn’t endear him to anyone.

When The Cold Room opens, Corbin is still being shunned by his co-workers and bosses. Even though he’s a detective, he hasn’t been allowed to work on any homicide cases for a year. When he stumbles upon a dumped and mutilated female murder victim, he immediately decides to find out who she was and work on solving the case.

Following Corbin as he tries to learn the victim’s identity with scant help from his superiors is like going on a ride-along. The big difference is as a reader, we’re allowed into Corbin’s mind not only as he pieces together the puzzle to find out who the murdered girl is, but who killed her.

Along the way, the reader is introduced to a neighborhood priest and a nun, both who play important parts in the investigation though not always in a cooperative manner. The interaction between Corbin and Father Stan is intriguing, both trying to outfox the other. Following Corbin through rich neighborhoods and poor, sitting with him during stake-outs, learning about the exploitation of female illegal immigrants, a horrendously screwed-up family, and how he pieces together what happened to the murder victim and who did it, has the stamp of true police work.

Following clues from one place to another, intensified action, a touch of romance, and a surprising ending, make The Cold Room a most satisfying read. Highly recommended to lovers of mystery and police procedurals.

* * *

About Robert Knightly by Robert Knightly:
ONCE A WRITER…

          That’s true of cops, too.
          I’ll start at the beginning. I was a top writer of  “compositions” at St. Anthony of Padua’s grammar school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where in the Eighth Grade I became starry-eyed about the Life of a Franciscan Teaching Brother. At 12, I signed on at their boarding school/junior seminary (another St. Anthony’s) in Smithtown, among the potato fields of Suffolk County, Long Island. It produced Franciscan Brothers. While there, I won the silver medal in an Irish Essay Contest called “The Feis”. How that came about, what I wrote, eludes me a half-century later, except Google says I participated in a Gaelic Cultural Festival that harkens back to an Irish-style Olympics put on for the High King at Tara. That’s good enough for me. I didn’t make the cut, however, at the junior seminary.
         I didn’t take up my pen again till Creative Writing Class in sophmore year in college. It was there that I was dealt a blow that still smarts although it charted the future course of my Writer’s Life. Mary Ann V., I’ll call her, laughed (shrilly) at my first attempt at a short story. I’d set it in the City Room of a metropolitan daily newspaper, where I’d never been. Mary Ann V. compelled me to take stock: If I were to write, I needed material. I needed A Life.
       Upon graduation, I immediately ran to the bosom of the Army: it was 1961 and at age 20 I was fodder for the Draft. At the completion of Basic Training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, we new soldiers waited resignedly for likely postings to Germany (9 months “in the field” during the German winter) or Korea (no warmer). It was a time when the call throughout the Land was: “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” The Army, in its wisdom, sent me to San Juan, Puerto Rico as an English Language Instructor. That year every inductee with a college degree was deployed to Puerto Rico to teach the locals an eight-week course in Basic English, after which, upon passing a written test, they’d be drafted. The jibaros (hillbillies) desperately wanted the job while the English-speakers (mostly former New York City cab drivers) contrived to fail the test and be sent home. We instructors were  from every State in the Union: high school teachers, PhDs in the Classics, every kind of engineer, a professional race car driver, and newspapermen, one of whom passed on to me his off-duty off-base job as a Night Proofreader on The San Juan Star, the only English language daily on the Island. My benefactor, finished his tour, was going home on the next plane. I kept the job for a year-and-a-half, then passed it on to a bunkmate. While working at The Star I looked on from a distance as the novelist William Kennedy worked the copydesk, presumably writing, off-hours, his Albany cycle of novels that would bring him fame and a Pulitzer Prize (this fact will reveal its significance later).
           Discharged from the Army in 1963, the following year I wangled a job as copy boy on the New York Journal-American, Hearst’s afternoon daily in the City, which at that time had seven daily newspapers. The Journal-American operated out of a warehouse-like building that occupied an entire city block on South Street opposite the East River piers. The City Room—cavernous, high metal-ceilinged, with wide-planked pine flooring--- resembled a Turn-of-the Century sweatshop, the sewing machines replaced by Remington Rand typewriters clacking away. On November 22, 1963, I stood among the silent reporters, editors and rewritemen in the City Room, the noise of the Linotype machines next door stopped, as Walter Cronkite on TV reported the death of President Kennedy. In 1966, the Journal-American shut down, but I’d taken notes.
         On May 15, 1967, I was sworn in as a Patrolman in the New York City Police Department and joined my Recruit Class at the Police Academy on East 20th Street, in Manhattan, for six months of training. Three weeks later, however, we were all hastily ‘qualified’ with our revolvers at the Police Outdoor Pistol Range at Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx—illuminated by searchlights in the dark---and sent to Precincts throughout the City, as the Department bosses and City politicians anticipated a ‘hot summer’ (shorthand for riots). We stayed in the Precincts on patrol approximately nine months, then brought back to the Police Academy to complete our training, we were by then incorrigible, so graduation was expedited so they could be rid of us. I took copious notes for the next fifteen years. When I wasn’t, I attended Fordham University Law School nights, graduating with a J.D. in 1975.
        In 1984, I began again to take myself seriously as a writer. I was by then a Sergeant-Supervisor of a Plainclothes team in the 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village, charged with suppressing illegal ‘peddling’ (hotdog vendors and Three-Card Monte Games) on the main thoroughfares of Sixth Avenue and West 14th Street; and drug traffic in Washington Square Park. Off-duty on an early weekday afternoon, I was walking on West 10th Street, headed to my stationhouse in the West Village on W. 10th St. between Bleecker and Hudson Streets. I was coming from  the New School for Social Research on West 12th Street, where I was taking a Fiction Writing class with Robert Phelps, novelist and biographer of the French writer, Colette. In fact, he had lent me a copy of “Earthly Paradise: Colette’s Autobiography Drawn From her Lifetime Writings”, which I was paging through as I walked along W.10th St. I was mid-block when I heard the cry, “Stop him!” Startled, I looked up and saw the bartender on the stoop leading up to the front door of The Anvil, a notorious gay bar (a staple of Village life back then). The bartender, not ten yards from me, was pointing frantically in my direction. I didn’t register the man, gun in hand, till he’d breezed past me. I was in motion after him as I reached for my weapon with my right hand while juggling Phelp’s book, a hefty tome, with my left. I’m no track star--- you try running with a gun in one hand and book in the other (discarding the book was not an option). In jig time, the perp was around the corner onto crowded Sixth Avenue and gone before I’d gotten up a head of steam. No cell phones in those days, but I was sure the bartender had already summoned the cops on the house phone.  Shamefacedly, I headed south on Sixth Ave., away from the crime scene, circling around onto 8th Street heading west to the Precinct. I had nothing of use to contribute, I reasoned, and morale would be ill served by exposing myself to the jibes of underlings. But in the days and months following, I began to see that I had crossed my own Rubicon: I was leaving policing behind. In September, 1987, I retired from the NYPD with 20 years and four months service. I immediately hung out my lawyer’s shingle, in a room rented from a Landlord/Tenant lawyer on Broadway in Downtown Manhattan just below Canal Street. I practiced civil law at first and handled one criminal case---all of which convinced me that I knew nothing about the Courtroom or the Law. Soon I hired on with the New York City Legal Aid Society as a criminal trials lawyer-in-training; their clients were the poor and mostly-guilty (the same folks I’d been locking up in my past life). Life is ironic. Loved every minute in the Courtroom for the next 18 years and took notes furiously.
        In 2002, my first literary sale was a Pilot Script, “The System”, to Aaron Spelling TV-Productions and NBC, based on my days as a criminal defense lawyer. In 2004, I sold my first short story to ‘Brooklyn Noir’, an anthology of original crime fiction from Akashic Books. In 2006, I sold a story to ‘Manhattan Noir’, which was picked for inclusion in ‘Best American Mystery Stories 2007’.  In 2007, I edited ‘Queens Noir’; and in 2008, published a true-crime story in ‘Brooklyn Noir 3: Nothing But the Truth”. I published my first novel, ‘Bodies In Winter’, a police procedural, in 2009 from Severn House; and my second, ‘The Cold Room’, a sequel, this December.
      I’ve worked on newspapers, been a policeman, and now criminal defense lawyer. It’s all been in search of the material for my fiction (thanks to MaryAnn V. in that  college Creative Writing class). Life is not only ironic but also circular, I’ve found. I relocated to Albany from New York City four years ago with no clearer purpose in mind than to live in a smaller city. I bought a row house in Downtown Albany (the only place in the world I could afford one) and unknowingly find myself living around the corner from William Kennedy and up the block from Andy Viglucci, the editor of The San Juan Star who hired me as the Night Proofreader 50 years ago. Eerie, no?
* * *
Robert's website is www.robertknightly.com and
he blogs on The Crime Writers'  Chronicle (robertknightly.blogspot.com/).
The Cold Room is available from Amazon and at The Book House, the biggest independent in the Capital District, at the Stuyvesant Mall in Guilderland.

(Robert gave me a copy of The Cold Room.)



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