Coffey, Tom 1958–
Coffey, Tom 1958–
PERSONAL: Born September 3, 1958, in Staten Island, NY; son of Thomas J. (a teacher) and Barbara (an administrative assistant) Coffey; married Jill Haber (a newspaper editor) April 23, 1994; children: Skyler Grace. Ethnicity: "Irish." Education: Syracuse University, B.A., 1980. Politics: "Anti-Bush and, more generally, anti-Republican." Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Jogging, working out, theater, movie-going, visiting museums, avid baseball fan.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a journalist for Miami Herald and Newsday; New York Times, worked as a journalist and editor.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America.
The Serpent Club (novel), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Miami Twilight (novel), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor to periodicals, including Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and New York Newsday.
SIDELIGHTS: Tom Coffey's novel The Serpent Club was described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as a "fast-paced, shocking and hypnotic debut thriller." In the book, cynical journalist Ted Lowe is assigned to investigate the rape and murder of a thirteen-year-old girl; the prime suspect is the girl's boyfriend, Brad Dunlin, who is the son of a billionaire electronics company executive. Naturally, the father has enough clout and money to protect his adolescent son from prosecution. Lowe, by talking to police and using other investigational methods—some ethical, some not—gathers enough evidence to incriminate the boy, but Brad and his friends kidnap Lowe and take him along when they rape another girl and her mother.
Lowe is drawn to the violence and does not report the crime, and the subsequent trial regarding the first girl's death begins tilting in Brad's favor as his father pays off witnesses and pulls strings. Lowe is forced to choose between testifying about his own role in the second rape in order to convict Brad, or staying silent to protect himself and his career, and allowing Brad to walk free and continue his crime spree. The Publishers Weekly reviewer described Coffey's style as "deceptively spare, world-weary" and noted that he used "stunningly original" twists in plot to emphasize Lowe's moral choices. However, Charles Wilson in The New York Times Book Review observed that the novel was dissatisfying because the characters are difficult to identify with, and wrote that he wished "the human connections were deeper and that the sex had some relation to love."
Coffey once told CA: "I enjoy the thriller genre. It gives me a chance to explore moral questions while writing a story with a strong narrative. Someday, though, I'd like to do something different—perhaps a character study." More recently he added: "I've enjoyed mysteries and thrillers for a long time, and I find that writing them allows me to explore moral and ethical questions while fashioning a strong narrative. My motivation to write is the ancient one: using the hallowed techniques of storytelling to say something about the human condition. My strongest influences have been Raymond Chandler and, more recently, James Ellroy. I've also absorbed the spare but powerful style of writers like Raymond Carver and E.L. Doctorow. Like Doctorow, I find myself increasingly drawn to writing about the past—which allows us to say so much about the present."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1999, Charles Wilson, review of The Serpent Club, p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1999, review of The Serpent Club, p. 58.