Book Review: Beasts of 42nd Street

Andy Lew is a strange loner working as a projectionist at a movie theater on 42nd Street. For Andy, the more extreme, violent, and realistic the film, the better. One film in Andy’s personal collection features a woman he is desperate to find. That desperation gets him mixed up with a crooked cop, an ex-porn star, and other distasteful characters. While Andy continues on his journey, the rest of the city is on the brink of combustion.

Beasts of 42nd Street, written by Preston Fassel, is a unique, gritty neo-noir tale. There are multiple layers of mystery woven together to create heightened tension and intrigue. For protagonist Andy, the main mystery is who the woman in his movie is. He is completely obsessed with her. His life revolves around playing the film on his home projector and trying to discover who she is.

For the reader, there are many more mysteries to unravel. What is on the film with Andy’s mystery girl? The reader gets small glimpses here and there, but for the most part we are left in the dark as to what Andy’s film is about. We also don’t know where Andy got a film that he feels the need to keep so safe and secret from the world. Then there is the mystery of Andy’s brother. Fassel gives little hints about Andy’s brother here and there. All that is really known is the man has been missing for years, and the cops are trying to figure out where he is and what happened to him.

Fassel does a great job of pacing Beasts of 42nd Street. The plot starts off at a slow burn, establishing the various characters and the different threads the reader must follow to unravel the mysteries. At times the first third of the novel might come across as a bit too slow, but it is in these moments when the reader should really pay attention to the minute details that hint at what’s to come. Then, once the reveals begin, they come in rapid succession and leave the reader slack-jawed with shock. Despite the clues, Fassel still packs in a few great surprises the reader won’t see coming.

One thing that could potentially be off-putting to some readers is the characters. Every character in Beasts of 42nd Street is rather despicable and unlikeable. Even the protagonist, Andy, is really an unsavory man. He can only be seen as the hero of the novel because those around him are so much worse. However, he gradually becomes a character readers can root for through the actions he takes and the secrets about his past that come to light. I personally find this to be an effective way to show how all humans are flawed creatures. In the real world there are never any perfect people who do no wrong, so why should there be in fiction? I would say the characters in Beasts of 42nd Street are comparable to those in Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. Much like the Firefly clan, Andy is the character we root for because he is the lesser of two (or ten) evils.

Each of the characters has a very distinct voice. Fassel did a great job of giving the various characters their own eccentricities, and these come through in the dialogue. It makes the conversations in Beasts of 42nd Street easier to read, as each voice is clearly connected to a specific character. Since this novel takes place in New York during the 70’s, the dialogue also includes various phrases and idiosyncrasies one would expect from that time period and place.

While the novel takes place in New York City, the focus is localized on 42nd Street. That is the part of the city Andy’s life revolves around, and it also seems to be a reflection of himself. It is a seedy part of the city where drugs and prostitution run rampant, the street being punctuated with once grand movie theaters for people to duck into and escape reality. New York is often looked upon as an unclean area, but 42nd Street is an amplification of grime, filth, and sin.

Preston Fassel’s Beasts of 42nd Street is a grimy neo-noir thriller that is sure to make any reader feel unclean. The micro ecosystem of 42nd Street within New York City offers the perfect backdrop for Andy Lew’s journey. Andy is a darkly flawed character, but he is compelling because of his singular quest and because he is the lesser evil of those surrounding him. The slow beginning sets the scene before the snowball-effect of revelations careens out of control to the surprising climax of the novel. If you’ve read Fassel’s previous hit novel, Our Lady of the Inferno, or even if you haven’t, be sure to grab this thriller from your local bookstore the moment it hits shelves.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Beasts of 42nd Street will be published by Cemetery Dance on March 17th, 2023. You can preorder a copy here.

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