Haze, Rafe. “The Next”, Wilde City Press, 2014.
“Rear Window”, Updated
I am not a mystery reader and actually the only time I will read one is if someone asks me to review his book or a friend highly recommends a book to me. I am not sure how I got a copy of Rafe Haze’s “The Next” but as soon as I started to read it, I was glued to the chair. (So much for not reading mysteries).
What makes this such a good read are the characters. Each is believable and could, in fact, be our next door neighbor. Our protagonist or hero, if you prefer, does not have much of a life and what he does have comes from him looking out of the window at his neighbors across the courtyard from his apartment. “He never thought he’d become one of the agoraphobic sludges of New York City—trapped with one view of a courtyard and a head full of wrenching memories. Dumped, disconnected, and depressed, he surrenders to spying on the neighbors as his only entertainment”.
At first we wonder why he looks and is he living his life through his neighbors? Haze could have written this with great detail and we would then be able to answer that question right away but he doesn’t and he lets us deal with the issue and thereby pulls us into the story. I could not help but be reminded of Hitchcock’s classic film, “Rear Window”.
Then there was that one day when the lawyer across the way led him to believe that there had been a murderer and that he, himself, is the murderer. The main character remains nameless yet he gives names to those he watches. There is “Princess”, a very beautiful young woman who strives for perfection but never achieves it; “Schlongzilla” is the super-hung Brazilian masseuse; “The Couch Potatoes”, a gay couple that enjoy watching television together; “The Beached Whale”, an obese woman who enjoys popcorn and seems to be lonely; “The Broadway Dancer” who is proud and limber, the “Little Old Man” who might or might not have a friend; the “White Mustachioed Black Man” who delivers food and marijuana every once in a while; the “Perfects”, a nice looking couple—he is a lawyer; she is a fashion plate and they have two kids. There are also neighbors in other parts of the building—a young man, Reuben, who plays music and Mrs. Abraham who is a great baker and has a dog named Minnie.
Paul, our hero’s brother, has just died; he learns of this through an email from one of his brother’s neighbors. At first this does not seem to affect him but he is having a hard time emotionally. As spring comes, it brings a visit from a detective, Sergeant Marzoli, who is looking for Reuben, the guy who lives about our main character and who he refers to as the twink. Reuben seems to have disappeared.
Our main character who has never been attracted before to men suddenly senses something. He wants to speak with Marzoli and he sees him as man and not just as a detective. He feels something for the man but he is not sure what it is. In fact, he is confused about the way he feels to the point of anger with himself.
We see everything through the main character’s eyes and he sees Marzoli as strong and sexy with a great body and as a man who is younger than himself. He sees himself as not bad looking but guarded; a man dealing with his past filled with anxiety and carrying the damages of a previous time. Both men seem to be quite intelligent and they suit each other. If they work together, they may be able to solve the crime and the main character can then have another shot at life and doff his past.
What Haze does so masterly is to deny us detail and in that way only the writer can only solve the crime since he knows what he is doing. He deprives us of playing detective and forces us to sit in patience and let things come together the way he plans them. This is also a unique way to build tension. Mr. Perfect takes part in some kind of secret lust by openly masturbating in his window so that Reuben, the twink can see him. In fact, he is actually putting on a show and eventually invites the twink over for his own purposes. He is, of course, unaware that he is being watched and soon our main character is observing a sex scene and as he watches he sort of joins in by masturbating himself.
The atmosphere changes quite suddenly and the voyeur becomes upset by what he has seen but in reality he has seen little more than some hot sex. Having seen this brings back memories he has long suppressed and he wonders if he really saw something or just imagined that he did. We still do not know much about him. He thought he saw some kind of infliction of pain but then he also thought he saw Rueben leaving the lawyer’s apartment. However, he realizes that the apartment above his has been very quiet; he has not heard anyone there in a few days. Even stranger is that the window to Reuben’s apartment is open and it is snowing. This leads the main character to form questions and to actively watch the lawyer’s apartment.
How did Marzoli learn about something amiss here and why has he come to investigate something in such a closed atmosphere— and what does Marzoli see in our main character that has him coming back to him again and again? It is not as if he can learn anything from him. When he asks him questions, our hero tends to black out but what Marzoli does not know is that our main character is dealing with his own demons as he remembers things in his own past. Here is where Haze shines as a writer. His transitions between past and present are so smooth that we are not always aware of them. The transitions that we do feel are that way deliberately. What really makes this such a good read is that the reader is forced into participating in the plot and while I will not tell you how that happens, I will say that this is a book that tends to possess the reader if such a thing is possible in literature. It is certainly not something we see regularly.
Rafe Haze is a writer that knows exactly what he is doing. I could actually visualize how he planned this book out (I hope he really did or I missed the whole point).
This is, quite simply, a wonderful read and I indeed hope that it moves from ebook to the printed page because there is so much to be learned here and to have a hard copy would help many other writers. Not only is it a clever plot, it is masterly written and the murder takes a back seat to that writing. It has been a long time since I have handed out so much praise in one review and to a writer I had not read before. His use of sex fits the story and nothing is gratuitous and not a word is here that has not been especially chosen to be here. This is a book for those who want more than just a simple read. Keep your eyes on Rafe Haze—I think we will be hearing great things about him.