BY: JOHN ROCHE
The year is 1988 and reporter Matt Brady of The Bronx Ledger is trying hard to get out of both his native borough and the dead-end job he’s stuck in, writing for a weekly newspaper. When he’s sent to cover what he thinks will be just another fatal shooting in the murder-plagued city, he’s as surprised as the detectives on the scene to find out he knows the corpse: Danny McDuff, an enigmatic local legend turned career criminal.
Desperately looking for a story that will be his ticket out and help him break free from the clutches of his family, friends, and neighborhood ties, Matt reaches out to the people he grew up with—many of whom chose the path of either cop or criminal—forever bound by their shared pasts. As Matt digs beyond what the police are telling him about the murder, he discovers that what seemed like the story that could finally get him out of the Bronx only sucks him in deeper and deeper…until his own life is on the line.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Bronx Bound by John Roche, Matt Brady is hometown reporter in The Bronx, looking for the big story that will propel him out of his hometown and away from his job at the local weekly newspaper. Little does he know that, when he shows up to cover just another murder, it’s a story that could do just that. It could also propel him into a butt load of danger. Matt relies on his old friends—most of whom have become either cops or criminals—for inside information on the victim as well as leads to the killer. And, in the meantime, he has to deal with his irate boss, his stubborn father, and the lost love he still has a yen for.
I thought the characters were very well developed, interesting, and realistic. The book has a ring of truth that is very appealing. I found myself riveted from the very first page.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Bronx Bound by John Roche is the story of a young man who wants what most of us do at one time or another. A reporter for The Bronx Ledger in The Bronx, Matt Brady wants to move on to bigger and better things. His dream is to work at a big newspaper and shake off the dust of his hometown, along with the clutches of friends and family tying him to his past. There’s just a couple of problems with that. His father’s health is not the best, and Matt’s girlfriend, the lost love he still longs for, refuses to live anywhere else. But Matt trudges on, refusing to see that where he is could be exactly where he wants to be.
Bronx Bound is set in 1988 and takes you back to a time when reporters had principles and still lived by the rule that the truth should be told, regardless of the consequences. It’s a touching and heart-warming tale, told in such a way as to make you feel like you’re right there in 1988, risking your life to get the public the truth of things. It will grab your heartstrings and hold your interest from the first word to the last.
If you were going to kill someone, the 88th Precinct was the place to do it. Most cops who worked in that precinct would be pissed at that statement, but deep down they’d also know it’s true. There weren’t many murders in the Eight Eight, but the ones that did happen didn’t get solved. Not many of them, anyway.
There were a few doozies over the years. A high-profile case where a big shot doctor from Pelham went missing, with some bloodstains found in the hospital garage where he usually parked his car. Cops all over the city were looking for the silver Mercedes the doctor owned. That fact, and other specifics of the case, were big news for a while in all the papers and all over TV.
Two months later, the car was located, with the doctor’s body in the trunk. A retired postal worker, walking his dog, picked up an odd scent and thought it might be coming from the vehicle. Not only was the dead doctor’s Mercedes parked about four blocks from the 88th Precinct station house with the body in it, but about half the cops in the precinct had written a ticket for the car since its registration was expired.
The cops, detectives, and even the bosses assigned to the Eight Eight were, for the most part, good people. They did something good along the way to be assigned to the cushy country club, or as much of a country club as a Bronx police precinct could be. Still, they took their knocks from other cops and the community, although maybe not directly to their faces by the latter.
Crazy Eights is what most cops called the precinct. Eight Eight. Same as the year, which, just two months in, was already shaping up to be as shitty for me as ’87 was. Same as this endless, runaround loop I was stuck on.
Crazy Eights. Fuck me.
Anyway, that’s what I was thinking on my way to Orchard Beach this cold February morning. The call I got said somebody had been murdered, and I thought I’d better get on the story of the killing, since there wasn’t likely going to be another story any time soon about an arrest in the case.
I pulled into the huge, nearly empty parking lot off Shore Road. I rolled down the window and hoped the two uniformed cops waving at me to stop couldn’t somehow sense the shitty things I was thinking about them and their precinct.
An Italian looking cop, the younger of the two, bent down a bit and raised his eyebrows at me, which I took to mean “Can I help you, asshole?”
I gave a half-assed try at seeing his nameplate, but he had brought both gloved hands up to his mouth to blow on them as he awaited my spiel.
“I’m Matt Brady, from The Bronx Ledger. Here to cover what’s going on.”
The cop looked at the other one, then back at me, giving my car the once over. I thought that if he needed proof I was a newspaper reporter, this piece of shit I was driving ought to convince him.
“Hold here a sec,” he said, reaching for his radio.
“Is, uh, Reardon here yet?” I said, hoping that mentioning the name of the detective I figured would be working a case like this might speed things up.
“Got a reporter here, asking for Reardon,” the cop said into the radio, his breath gray and visible with every word. He waited, shrugging when no response came. “No answer for you yet. Kinda busy over there.”
I looked at the face of the other cop, hoping maybe I’d recognize him, but nothing. I hadn’t been working for the paper long enough to know many of the cops in the Eight Eight, or the other precincts we covered.
“I hear ya,” I said. “Can imagine there’s a bunch of running around going on over there. Any details on who the dead guy is?”
He looked at me again, then back over at the corner of the parking lot where the cluster of detectives, cop cars, and yellow tape were. Steam rose like smoke signals from the dozens of simultaneous conversations going on in the huddled pack.
“You probably know more than me,” he said, one of the fingers of his black leather glove wiping a drop of clear, cold liquid from the tip of his Romanesque nose. “What you say your name was again?”
I caught some movement in my rearview mirror and saw a brown Chevy Caprice pulling into the lot’s entrance. I turned to see the bleary-eyed Detective Jack Reardon flashing his gold shield to the two uniforms.
I beeped, and Reardon shifted his thick upper body in his seat to get a look at me. I smiled. He didn’t. But he did give a reluctant wave for me to follow him, which I did, pushing out a “Thanks” to the two freezing cops as I rolled up my car driver’s side window.
I hopped out of my car quickly after parking next to Reardon’s. I didn’t want to lose him in the slew of cops already around the parked Honda Accord with the dead guy in the driver’s seat. I figured I’d stay close, until Reardon decided I was too close.
Reardon took a liking to me, albeit a tiny one, after I played up some comments he made, under his breath, at another crime scene. That story was about this crazy guy, a packrat, who had piles and piles of junk in his house and around his yard. When the city came to evict him on health-code violations, they found a note pinned to his front door, saying he was going to blow the whole block up rather than lose his house.
Guy’s name was something Rogers, on Randall Avenue. Among the many rumors around the neighborhood about the eccentric junk collector was that he worked as a chemical engineer at some point, before his genius morphed into insanity. Anyway, the whole area was shut down until emergency services and the bomb squad could get through all the newspapers, furniture, scrap metal, and other crap piled inside against the front door. Reardon sat on the hood of his car across the street from the whack-job’s house, right where I was camping out trying to piece together the story.
He didn’t really say it to me as much as just out loud, but Reardon started talking about Collyers’ Mansion, this big house where two rich, eccentric, packrat brothers lived back in the forties until some of the shit they collected fell on top of one of them.
The Collyer brother that got trapped under the pile had been taking care of the other one, bringing him his meals and stuff, since he was bedridden and blind. They both ended up dying in this cluttered mansion. Afterward, people pulled out all kinds of crap, from a car chassis to six chandeliers and half a dozen pianos–literally tons and tons of stuff. I’d never heard of the Collyers, although they were pretty infamous to most New Yorkers of a certain age.
Anyway, I looked up their story in the Encyclopedia of New York and wrote a sidebar about the fact that Reardon compared crazy old Rogers with the Collyer brothers.
Reardon loved it, thinking the article made him look smart and savvy, even though after three hours of closing down a two-block area and bringing in all kinds of cops, sniffing dogs, and even a bomb squad robot, it turned out Rogers wasn’t even in the house, much less in there waiting to blow up the entire block.
And from that he took a liking to me, which really meant he knew my last name and would occasionally return my phone calls, if he felt like it. That kind of liking.
“Nice day for the beach,” Reardon said, loud enough to draw some chuckles from the jagged circle of uniforms and detectives. With another tug of his pants up toward his sizeable gut, he went for the bigger laugh, and got it, adding, “Just gonna change into my Speedo.”
A squinty-eyed detective strolled over to where Reardon and I were standing and started flipping through the pages of a spiral notepad.
I reached for my own notebook, which cued Reardon to give the slightest tip of his head in my direction, letting the other detective know to keep his mouth shut in front of me.
“Let me speak to my friend here and I’ll be right with you,” Reardon said to squinty eyes. “Our DOA’s not going anywhere, right?”
The other detective gave a slow nod, locking eyes with Reardon, who put one of his beefy arms around my shoulder to lead me a few steps away from the taped off scene. I could feel the other detectives’ eyes on my back, trying to figure out just who the fuck I was.
“Professor Brady,” Reardon said, his breath a mix of tobacco and cough drop. “What can I do you for?”
I tapped my reporter’s notebook with my pen, trying to prevent the ink, and the blood in my fingertips, from freezing. “What can you tell me so far?” I said, trying to casually shift my position so I could still see the car and the goings on around it.
“Don’t know much yet and can tell you even less than that right now,” he said. “Christ, you beat me here. Haven’t even gotten a rundown, much less anything I could say on the record for publication in a fine periodical such as yours.”
He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head a little to the side, a smile pushing up one side of his mouth, twinkling bloodshot eyes fixed on me, waiting to see if I’d respond. Reardon was one of those guys that people either loved or hated, and whichever of those two opinions they had of him were for the exact same thing. He was a bull-shitter, and either you bought into his act and got a kick out of him, or Reardon made your skin crawl for the very same reason.
“Okay, just the basics so at least I know what I’m waiting for,” I told him, avoiding his eyes, knowing he wouldn’t be pleased with even that gentle push. “Just who, what, and when. White male, right?”
“Yes, I am,” Reardon said with a smile, popping another cough drop in his mouth. “You got a job to do, but I haven’t even started mine,” he said, thumbing toward the other cops. “And those ballbusters are already going to crucify me for getting here so late from my palatial estate in Rockland, as I’m sure they’ll put it.”
I thought of trying one more time, but I didn’t want to piss him off, and I wouldn’t be writing the story until Monday anyway. One of the downsides of weeklies–you could be first and only at the scene of something hot and juicy, but the dailies, TV, and radio would beat you to the punch on a story. And in a case like this, those pricks would likely beat me to press without having to stand out here in this Godforsaken cold.
I gritted my teeth against a hard gust of wind and thought of all the other places I’d rather be, other things I’d rather be doing. Out of this freezing parking lot, out of this job, out of this borough. Somewhere else. Anywhere else. Just out. “I’ll be right in my car, if that’s okay with you,” I said, stomping my feet and shaking my arms, as much to warm up as to remind Reardon that I was out here in this deep freeze right alongside him and the other cops and, of course, the corpse. “Appreciate whatever you can tell me when you know.”
Reardon held his eyes closed longer than a blink, then smiled. “I’ll do what I can, professor. Wouldn’t happen to have an urn of hot, fresh coffee in your trunk?”
He did the little move again to pull up the waist of his pants and then headed over to the crime scene. As he approached the yellow tape, instead of ducking under, Reardon grabbed a twist of it in his freckled right hand and snapped it, the plastic tape parting for his pear-shaped frame.
I realized that it was Sunday and remembered what I had planned before I got the call to head out here. Go talk to my old man, which was always tougher than it needed to be, but today I was going to tell him a few things he definitely wouldn’t be happy to hear. Things I definitely wouldn’t be happy telling him.
Suddenly, playing kiss ass with a fat cop and his cronies in the balls-aching cold didn’t seem so bad after all.
Whether Reardon meant to put it in my head or not, I figured taking a quick ride over to City Island might be a good idea. Buy a tray full of coffees at that deli right over the bridge to bring back, score some brownie points with the boys with the badges. Find a pay phone, call the boss, let her know I was here, and tell her what little I already knew. Call my father to tell him I had to skip our visit.
As I walked to my own car, the glare lifted off the windshield of the dead guy’s Honda, and I could see the body. At first, I glimpsed just an outline, but then the face took shape.
I didn’t realize I’d said his name and I certainly wasn’t aware of how loud I must have spit it out. But each cop in the ragtag huddle froze and looked at me, wondering how I knew their dead guy’s name.
“Know him?” Reardon asked, yet again retrieving his pants that were already pushed downward again by his gut.
I heard him ask and knew that every detective was staring at my face, but I couldn’t pull my own eyes off the body, or get my mouth, hanging half open, to move.
Say something. “Yeah. Yeah, I know–McDuff. Danny McDuff,” I said, still looking at his oddly cocked head pressed against the back of the driver’s seat. “It’s McDuff.”
The tableau of cops held still for a few more seconds then broke back into the routine of crime scene activity. Reardon popped a cough drop into his mouth and came over to stand next to me, looking at the car as if to see what I saw.
“No ID on him, and the car’s stolen,” Reardon said with cherry breath. “Sure you know him?”
I didn’t exactly know him, but I knew of him. I’d seen McDuff most of my life, I guess. I didn’t think there was anybody in the neighborhood where he and I were from that didn’t know him by sight or by story. He was a legend in Parkchester, the apartment complex where McDuff and I grew up. Where McDuff ran wild until he sort of slipped off the map, or maybe I just stopped paying attention. Hadn’t thought about him in years.
The cops in that precinct, about three or so over from the Eight Eight, would have a shitload of McDuff stories, if any of them were still around. There were plenty of tales about McDuff, but I never knew anyone who ever claimed to be friends with him, to have even talked to him. He was someone you watched from afar, maybe talked about, but never talked to him. Not me, anyway.
“Up for taking a closer look? To be sure?” Reardon asked, nodding toward the open driver’s side door.
“Sure, I’ll look closer, but it’s McDuff,” I said, stepping toward the car and past a cop or two. “There’s not too many guys that look like him. Eye patch, the crazy blond hair, the gold tooth in the front.”
Reardon held a pudgy forefinger up to one side of his nose, turned slightly, bent toward the pavement, and blew a flash of liquid snot from one nostril. “Got a point there, professor,” he said.
“Hey, Marino,” Reardon yelled, waiting for the squinty-eyed detective, who seemed to be running things, to turn his way.
Reardon rubbed his hands together like he was about to chow down on a huge meal. “Yessir, Marino. Guess you can shitcan your pirate theory. Our vic here ain’t a pirate at all. Seems my pal here has got a bead on who he is.”
The blood caked on McDuff’s face, in his matted hair, around and down from where he was shot was black, not red. As black as his leather jacket. His mouth was in the same sneer it always seemed to be, somewhere between a smile and him bearing his teeth. I looked at his hands for some reason, both palm up on his lap.
“Danny McDuff. It’s him.”
Strange to see someone so much larger than life so obviously dead. I found myself looking at the blackest spot on the side of his head, figuring where the bullet must have entered, only I couldn’t really see the actual hole in that blackness. His hands drew my eyes again, just laying there so motionless on the thighs of his faded jeans.
I realized then that this was the closest I’d ever been to McDuff, and that thought made me take a step back from him. Dead or not, he was still McDuff.
© 2015 by John Roche
Author, Marshall Karp:
John Roche takes us back to a time before CSI labs turned crime solving into (yawn) science projects. His hero is riddled with flaws, bombarded by life, but so desperate to find out who murdered a neighborhood legend that I wanted to jump into the book and help the poor bastard out. If you’ve been aching for a good old fashioned, pulse-pounding crime novel you can sink your teeth into, Bronx Bound is it. ~ Marshall Karp, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Author, Maggie Barbieri:
Some books hook you with a bang-bang plot, others with characters you can’t forget, and still others, an atmosphere and mood that pull you into a time you’d all but forgotten—and maybe wanted to forget. John Roche combines all of these elements and more in Bronx Bound, a book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until a suspenseful conclusion that had this reader guessing until the very end. ~ Maggie Barbieri, author of Lies That Bind, Once Upon A Lie and the Murder 101 mystery series
Author, Mark Sundeen:
What Dennis Lehane has done to bring the grittiest streets of working-class Boston to life, John Roche does for some of the blue-collar neighborhoods of the Bronx circa 1988. ~ Mark Sundeen, co-author of the New York Times bestseller North By Northwestern and author of The Man Who Quit Money
Author, Dan Pope:
John Roche transports us back to the bad old days of the late 1980s with such authenticity that you’ll forget you are reading and think you’re actually standing in the pubs, precinct house, newsroom or on the rough-edged streets of the Bronx, where so many cops and criminals grew up together and still cross paths. In the tradition of Michael Connelly, Richard Price and Dennis Lehane, Bronx Bound is both an urban crime thriller and a literary debut worthy of celebration. ~ Dan Pope, author of Housebreaking
Author, Brian Thiem:
Bronx Bound is urban crime fiction at its best—gritty setting, memorable characters, and an authentic, compelling voice. John Roche’s 20-plus years of journalism experience bring this fast-paced story set in the 1980s Bronx to life as only a writer who’s lived the life can. His protagonist, reporter Matt Brady, is as real as a fictional character can be. I hope to see more of him in the future. ~ Brian Thiem, author of Red Line, a Detective Matt Sinclair Mystery
Author, Thomas Kelly:
This powerful debut novel takes us along for a gripping, noirish ride through a murder investigation that pushes cops, criminals, and a newspaper reporter to the edge. But in Bronx Bound, John Roche does more than just spin a good yarn. With a convincing eye for detail, he captures the complex ties of neighborhood loyalty, exploring the often blurred lines between right and wrong, and in the process delivers a convincing portrayal of working-class honor, along with its sometimes devastating costs. ~ Thomas Kelly, author of The Rackets and Empire Rising
Author, Annamaria Alfieri:
You will want to zip through John Roche’s Bronx Bound because the plot moves you along at rapid-fire pace, but all the while you will keep trying to slow down to savor the vivid insights into a complex urban culture. The book tells the best kind of story, one peopled with beautifully drawn characters you will care about deeply and remember after you turn the last page. ~ Annamaria Alfieri, author of the critically acclaimed Strange Gods
Author, Mark Wisniewski:
A compelling, no-bull novel packed with grittiness, authority, suspense, and topnotch storytelling. John Roche knows how to write. ~ Mark Wisniewski, author of Watch Me Go
Author, Tim O’Mara:
John Roche’s Bronx Bound reminds even us hardened New Yorkers that it ain’t called ‘The Boogie Down Bronx’ for nothing. Back in the late 1980s, Roche’s intrepid reporter, Matt Brady, goes to those places few would dare to tread. By the end of this brisk and fast-paced read, you’ll be glad you went along for the ride. ~ Tim O’Mara, author of the Raymond Donne mystery series
Author, SJ Rozan:
Being a Bronx kid, I was delighted to get my hands on John Roche’s Bronx Bound. This is a guy who knows his Bronx, and his complex and convincing story of tough times in tough neighborhoods—even neighborhoods that thought they weren’t so tough—takes me back through decades and streets I remember well. ~ SJ Rozan, Edgar-winning author (as Sam Cabot) of Skin of the Wolf
Author, Ivy Pochoda:
Bronx Bound is as authentic to the borough as Arthur Avenue and the Yankees. John Roche’s debut is gritty and compelling and filled with the sort of neighborhood details that make the story leap off the page. ~ Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street