Nagler Mysteries: Setting as character

In their review of the fifth Frank Nagler Mystery, the award-winning DRAGONY RISING, Kirkus Reviews said, “The decaying Ironton is as rich a character as Frank.”

In the series, Ironton, N,J. Detective Frank Nagler’s hometown. His story and that of the city are forever intertwined.

This scene shows how it works:

“The empty, dark house weighted, wisps of Lauren’s presence hanging. Jeans clinging to a chair arm, a wadded towel still moist with her rose-scented body wash, hints of lavender shampoo, piles of musty, water-stained tan paper files, pages of reports open and underlined, a cup half filled with white skimmed coffee; in the kitchen sink a vase holding the flowers he brought her, the purple buds now brown, the sagging sunflowers. “Don’t worry,” she says. “I’ve got this.”

 And I have to believe that she does. He leaned backside against the sink and surveyed the room: haphazard paper piles, the empty beer bottles on the table, her coat slung across the counter, a plastic bag left from Chinese takeout, three forgotten fortune cookies and a menu nestled in the bottom.

Streetlights in a park on a foggy night in autumn. Shallow D.O.F., long exposure.

This is us, Frank Nagler thought, the trail of us, the perfect imperfection, the chaos of two lives running in nine directions, pressed by all these things dark and light closing in, unable to even fill a flower vase with water to keep them alive, yet knowing just the same how delicately their scent drifted in to the dry air, how the frail petals slipped against her fingers, how she smiled, one moment in this unspoken, tangled thing.

 He turned and stared into the darkness beyond the window, his face a wavy outline, a smear of light.

 The moment is rising, he thought. We have no choice, but to stand.

Pushed from the house to escape its answerless questions, Nagler walked.

 The day’s mist, now cleared and frozen, drips made temporary stalactites frozen on the tips of dark branches, sidewalks sheen slick, streets still, shining as a glitter of light trapped in ice. Lights fuzzy with icy patina.

He had walked this route a hundred times, back through the years of his life, down streets that grew darker where the streetlights failed, along narrowing broken sidewalks to the darkened dirt paths, places memories deepened. Past three-story, white homes with wide porches and picket fences, past the pretty parks to warrens of broken trees, weeds curled like snakes around stunted trunks; then descending along alleys lined with single story unpainted dull wooden garages and sheds with uneven doors and cardboard windows, dying grass at the corners.

 Finally to the bottom, the center: The empty lot where his grandparents had lived. The old man would sway in his chair, hands bent and gnarled gripped the rails, feet locked to the floor, eyes pinned to the past, a face like iron. “They meant well,” he told his grandson from that chair one day before he died. “But they had no idea what they were doing. No means to govern other men. So they stopped trying. Governed for themselves. Greed gets easy. The cheap houses they built, the company stores, wages gleaned, and when the troubles started, hired the thugs to maintain order, the friendlies, the sons, the cousins, brothers, nephews. Hired their own kind, all else be damned.”

Nagler remembered the old man leaned forward, elbows on the chair rails and growled, “It will go on till someone stops it, Frankie, someone from these dreary streets, someone who knows …” His grandfather had collapsed back into the chair, weary.

“Knows what, Grandpa?” Frank asked.

 “Our life, Frank boy. Knows our life.”

When Nagler told Martha that story years later, as teens sitting on the front porch of her parents’ comfortable home under the soft light of a summer day, she turned his face to hers and said, “That wasn’t a curse, Frank,” before she kissed him.

“Feels like one,” he had replied.

“No, no, no, Frankie.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “It was his blessing.”

DRAGONY RISING was awarded First place for Mysteries in the 2022 Royal Dragonfly Indie Book Awards. And named a NOTABLE 100  Indie Book in the 2022 Shelf Unbound book awards.

Buy it here:

Book and Puppet, downtown Easton, Pa.

The Frank Nagler books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Walmart, and Apple books.

About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I am the author of the award-winning Frank Nagler Mystery series. "The Swamps of Jersey (2014); "A Game Called Dead" (2016) -- a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Author Contest; and "The Weight of Living" (2017) -- First Place winner for Mysteries in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Contest.
This entry was posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon, Georjean Trinkle,, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, Paramus Public Library, Parsippany Public Library, and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply