Tommy Ruzzo was once a promising NYPD officer. That was before his access to the precinct evidence locker, and the cocaine in it, sent his life on an unexpected detour. Though Internal Affairs was never able to prove Ruzzo took the coke, the cloud of suspicion he was placed under killed his career.
With no options on the table locally, Ruzzo tags along with his girlfriend, Shayna Billups, when she moves back to her hometown of Seatown, Florida. Given that Shayna, and her coke habit, was the reason Ruzzo was dipping into the evidence locker to being with, it’s a particularly low blow when she leaves him for her ex-husband as soon as the drugs and drug money run out.
Stuck in Florida with no chance at resuming a legitimate law enforcement career, Ruzzo is forced to settle for work as a rent-a-cop at Precious Acres retirement community. Despite being promoted to Head of Security after only a couple of months, Ruzzo knows the job is a dead end, and resignedly settles in to a pattern of fielding wisecracks from septuagenarian retirees and chasing off mischievous teenagers during the day, then getting bombed out of his skull every night.
Ruzzo’s uneventful life gets turned upside down the morning he finds one of Precious Acres’ residents dead on the bocce ball court, murdered in a gruesome manner. Things take a turn for the decidedly sinister when another of the community’s residents hints to Ruzzo that the murder is tied to the victim’s former life back in New York… as a mobster. When more bodies start turning up on his watch, Ruzzo is thrust into the investigation out of self-preservation, putting himself in the crosshairs of both the local PD and the killer.
Weighing in at a trim 153 pages, Crosswise, the latest from the very busy S.W. Lauden, hits the ground running—the first body turns up on page two—and never lets up. Along the way, Lauden peppers the action with characters who fill the story with everything from comic relief to genuine menace, and Lauden also makes incredibly creative use of a crossword puzzle as plot device—the novella’s title comes from a character telling Ruzzo to pay particular attention to the “first clue, crosswise,” in the local paper as a possible source of clues to solve the murders.
And while the stakes are undeniably as high as the body count, Lauden uses his Florida retirement community packed with feisty Yankee retirees setting to inject well-timed levity into the mix, making Crosswise a delightful blend of humor, mystery and action.
Crosswise is available from Down & Out Books (ISBN: 978-1943402205).