Asbury Park, by Rob Scott

Sailor Doyle is in trouble. The cop has been shot, his marriage is in a mess, he’s convalescing hundreds of miles from home while his career is on the brink, and now, apparently, the dead won’t let him rest.

I wasn’t aware of New York native Scott’s previous novel, 15 Miles, so I was coming to Doyle’s adventures blind. Scott has also co-written the fantasy Eldarn Trilogy, with Jay Gordon, as Robert Scott. I was interested in the idea of an unusual take on the ghost story. Scott writes Asbury Park as if it were a noir crime novel, albeit with the cop officially off duty. To top it off, it soon bends towards a political conspiracy thriller.
Detective Doyle, in his previous exploit, prevented a deadly plague from spreading through Virginia. The only problem with that heroic act was he was addicted to prescription drugs. He was also shot. So now he’s recuperating with his family at a beach house in New Jersey. The only problem with this, however, is he is trying to repair the damage to his marriage caused by the drugs, his alcohol consumption and the small matter of an affair. His wife, Jenny, is unsure that there is a reconciliation to be had. Sailor meets an elderly hotel guest with a tragic past just in time for Doyle’s old teacher to swan dive off the balcony above them. And just his luck, he’s also in time to apparently prevent a high school massacre, although a local drug dealer also intervenes. The themes are not overly complex, but that’s fine in the context of a modern ghost story. Visiting the sins of the past is common in horror novels. Loyalty, friendship and a smattering of local history drift in and out of the story in a pleasing enough manner.

There are 2 points to be made about Asbury Park. The first is that I really enjoyed the book, despite myself. The second is I really didn’t like Sailor Doyle. Take away any supernatural elements and this would be a straight thriller, with police procedure, research, drug gangs, politics and other familiar elements. Not the kind of material that I would normally enjoy, but even during the non-ghost bits, Scott makes the plot progress at a decent pace and describes procedure, back-story and characters with deft believability. Despite not knowing said back-story, elements are introduced at relevant points, treating the reader with respect. You don’t need to have read the previous book to understand what is happening and why. Talking of characters, Scott populates his world with a gallery of interesting characters, from the local cops, to Doyle’s family and the supporting characters. Some are short changed, unfortunately, such as Chef Sam. Which is a shame. It’s a long book, but could have done with another 20 pages. However, it’s the protagonist I have a problem with. He is an arrogant, womanising, unfaithful, drug and alcohol addicted disgraced cop. Yet he gets everything. He might suffer emotional discomfort and physical pain, but he always wins. He gets the girl, saves the day, solves the mystery, avoids the courts and everyone forgives him. There is no real toll, even with the ghosts. I never felt like any of his friends or family were in real danger. A higher price paid would have turned a good novel into a great novel.

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