Review: New York Dead (Stone Barrington #1) by Stuart Woods

Review: New York Dead (Stone Barrington #1) by Stuart WoodsNew York Dead by Stuart Woods
Series: Stone Barrington #1
Published by HarperCollins on 2009-10-13
Pages: 400
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Everyone is always telling Stone Barrington that he's too smart to be a cop, but it's pure luck that places him on the streets in the dead of night, just in time to witness the horrifying incident that turns his life inside out. Suddenly he is on the front page of every New York newspaper, and his life is hopelessly entwined in the increasingly shocking life (and perhaps death) of Sasha Nijinsky, the country's hottest and most beautiful television anchorwoman.No matter where he turns, the case is waiting for him, haunting his nights and turning his days into a living hell. Stone finds himself caught in a perilous web of unspeakable crimes, dangerous friends, and sexual depravity that has throughout it one common thread: Sasha.

This isn’t my first time reading “New York Dead” by Stuart Woods but it is my first time reading it since I started graduate school. Though it doesn’t seem necessary to tell you all that, I think it is important because I have some initial reservations about this novel.

There are some questionable moments where Stone or a supporting character has some controversial things to say about women. Before, it never bothered me. But this time around it bothered me enough to wonder if Woods is sexist or if he’s trying to stereotypically portray New York cops as sexist homophobes. It’s problematic either way. Most of the time I can flip my “scholar switch” on and off and just enjoy something for what it is. I couldn’t do it this time. There’s a moment where Stone refers to an ugly woman as a “dog” and demeans a woman’s authority as a judge by sexualizing her in his head. There’s another moment when his partner, Dino, blatantly misuses his authority because a female suspect is “a dyke”. These were moments that disconcerted me. Like I said before, now I can’t decide if Woods is sexist or if he believes all New York cops are and is just perpetuating what he thinks is a stereotype. I will say that Stone only does this twice (in the examples I mentioned). Dino wholly encompasses the rest of these moments in the book.

Despite my reservations, I enjoyed the book. Woods crafts a really interesting mystery. I’d read it before but it had been so long that I’d forgotten a few of the major plot twists that ended up genuinely surprising me. I also really like Stone Barrington as a character. He has his moments but I really enjoy his honesty and need to do the right thing, even if it costs him his job. I found his presence on the force interesting, especially the idea that as a WASP the other men don’t trust him. I’ve never really been exposed to the inter-departmental politics of the police force and I found it all fascinating. I also found the macabre twist at the end unique, though I do know that some people find it excessive.

The only problem with craft is dialogue, especially Stone’s dialogue with Cary Hilliard. It’s forced and contrived, not at all the way real people speak to each other. It’s pretty obvious that Woods writes for a male audience and his dialogue and narration usually shows that, especially in the sex scenes. It’s not horribly noticeable but I found myself rolling my eyes and the things Cary and Stone said to each other sometimes.

Basically, you’re going to have to make up your own mind on “New York Dead.” If you can get past the sexist and homophobic language, you’ll find a well-crafted mystery with a hero that you can believe in. If that kind of language isn’t something that you think you can forgive, then I’d suggest moving on.

I’m giving this book 3.5 stars because if I just followed my instinct on sexism and homophobia, I’d rate it 3 stars or lower. The story is better than that though and without the language would deserve 4 stars.


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