One of the things that I have learned as a student can be summed up in a quote famously stated by William Arthur Ward, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” While earning his masters degree, Christopher Ryan an English teacher, decided to write his first novel, City of Woe as his “graduate thesis,” earning him the Rutgers Award for Highest Distinction in Literature Studies. This year I have had the privilege of studying with Mr. Ryan as my English teacher, surely inspiring me.
After hearing about Ryan’s novel from teachers and students during my freshman year of high school, I decided to take advantage of a free Sunday afternoon to give it a try. The premise of the novel follows detectives Frank Mallory and Alberto “Gunner” Gennaro in their attempt to hunt down Paul Farrington, a corporate assassin who himself is targeted for elimination.
Within minutes I was hooked. I could not get myself to put the book down; City of Woe was more like City of Whoa! With every page I turned, there was a new twist and turn waiting to be revealed. The fluidity of Ryan’s novel worked impeccably.
City of Woe’s main focus revolves around Mallory’s work interfering with his personal life. With a series of crime scenes complete with index cards taking the reader on a roller coaster of events, many murders occur and captivate the detective’s keen mind. Mallory’s wife and children see the effects of this case also when the killer follows him home. Here Ryan chooses to let the reader see Mallory missing out on family priorities due to work, including taking a new family portrait. Mallory’s delightful, innocent wife, Gina, begins to lose patience with him until she comes to an understanding of just how important it is to catch Paul Farrington.
At the same time, Mallory’s sons begin to feel a rift in their relationship with dad. While Max is in his own world as any young child is, Kieran’s main focus is playing baseball with his father; all the boys want is their old relationship back with their dad. At the end of the novel we see the resolution of the heart-warming father-son relationship that has always existed between Mallory and his boys.
While the case draws Mallory further in, his father falls ill. It is in this scene, where a heart-wrenching moment between Mallory and his father takes place. Ryan wrote this chapter perfectly, allowing the reader to feel sympathy for Mallory when he has his one-on-one with his father. The words flowed beautifully…I think I may have even shed a tear.
With Mallory’s story being told it leaves room for his partner Gunner’s tale as well. Although, we do not know that much about Gunner until Ryan’s second publication City of Sin, he still remains an important character throughout City of Woe.
City of Sin was written as a prequel to City of Woe consisting of eight short stories that tell how Mallory and Gunner’s relationship formed. The detectives learn how to be partners with sly comments and professionalism. The stories also shed light on Gunner’s background with each tale serving as a spin on present-day versions of classic monsters. Here we begin to see the love-hate relationship between the two with Mallory and Gunner constantly verbally dueling throughout the text; the duo makes shrewd comments towards one another keeping the stories interesting. In the last tale of City of Sin, the readers see a softer side of Gunner when he falls in love.
These are New York City tales with a heavy emphasis on places like Manhattan and The Bronx. With the stories focusing in New York, the frantic urban scene is ideal for murders. Both City of Woe and City of Sin are unlike any other detective book I have read. By making allusions to Dante’s Inferno and James Joyce’s Ulysses and Dubliners, Ryan essentially gives Mallory his own version of Hell.
Ryan’s picturesque and lucid writing style will not disappoint anyone interested in detective work. He is clearly gifted as a writer with his words bringing New York City to life dexterously.
Now we just have to await the sequel novel, City of Pain, as well as, the final novel in the series, City of Love.
Christopher Ryan once was an award-winning journalist reporting on crime and politics. Currently he teaches English. The inspiration behind his novels comes from teaching Dante’s Inferno. For over 15 years, Ryan has taught his English classes Dante’s problems discussing the effects of sin. City of Woe and City of Sin were written to be modern tales having structures from old classics that people can relate to. You can find his books on Amazon and learn more about him at http://www.chrisryanwrites.com
Peace, love, toodles.