ADDRESSES: Offıce—c/o Author Mail, Carroll and Graf Publishers, 161 William St., 16th Fl., New York, NY 10038.
CAREER: Writer. Drove a taxi cab in New York, NY.
A Twist of the Knife, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.
Force of Nature, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
Forced Entry, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
Bad to the Bone, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.
A Piece of the Action, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.
A Good Day to Die, Otto Penzler Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Last Chance for Glory, Otto Penzler Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Damaged Goods, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
Trick Me Twice, Bantam (New York, NY), 1998.
No Control, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.
UNDER PSEUDONYM DAVID CRAY; MYSTERY NOVELS
Keeplock, Simon and Schuster/Otto Penzler Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Bad Lawyer, Carroll and Graf/Otto Penzler Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Little Girl Blue, Carroll and Graf/Otto Penzler Books (New York, NY), 2002.
What You Wish For, Carroll and Graf/Otto Penzler Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Work represented in anthologies, including Crimes of Passion and Criminal Records.
SIDELIGHTS: Stephen Solomita, who also publishes under the pen name David Cray, usually sets his mystery novels in New York City, portraying the steamier side of urban life in an unflinching fashion. The author's best work has a "gritty sensibility,"according to a Publishers Weekly contributor in a review of Damaged Goods. Several of the novels written under Solomita's own name have as their central character Stanley Moodrow, originally a New York police detective and later a private investigator. In his work as Cray, he has created another recurring protagonist, Julia Brennan, introduced as a New York police officer in Little Girl Blue and promoted to the district attorney's sex crimes unit in What You Wish For.
Moodrow made his debut in A Twist of the Knife, in which he is on the trail of terrorist bombers. His interest becomes personal after his fianceé dies in one of their blasts, set in front of a Macy's department store. Moodrow is portrayed as a man of integrity who does things his own way, and his pursuit of the terrorists takes him through "several twists" and culminates in "a terrific confrontation," commented Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Book Review. Champlin praised Solomita's detailed depictions of New York City life, as did Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review, who said the descriptions have "a certain raw truth."
The second "Moodrow" book, Force of Nature, pairs him with a new, inexperienced partner, former prizefighter Jim Tilley. Their assignment is to catch a crack addict who is on a killing spree. Washington Post Book World contributor Daniel Woodrell thought the plot sometimes "cartoonish" and the characters illdefined, but allowed that the book has "an occasional fine moment, a good aside or snap of dialogue." Stasio, while advising readers not to "expect any subtleties," had positive things to say about the development of Moodrow's character and about Solomita's portraits of poor city neighborhoods, which "certainly seems authentic."
Forced Entry finds Moodrow retired but unable to leave crime-solving behind. The new woman in his life, a legal aid lawyer named Betty Haluka, asks him to look into the changing character of the occupants of a rent-controlled apartment building, where prostitutes and drug dealers are moving in among the elderly. The moves turn out to be part of a plot by the building's owners to chase away the longtime tenants and turn it into a cooperative. Solomita tells this story in a fashion that is "pure prole poetry," remarked Amy Pagnozzi in the New York Times Book Review, adding that his "writing is so natural, you don't know you're reading." Pagnozzi thought he moves the action a bit slowly, but added that the novel "is still a worthwhile trip." She praised Solomita's depiction of "things gritty and garish," and observed, "At his best, he has Elmore Leonard's flair for letting you view the world through his character's eyes." A Publishers Weekly critic, meanwhile, called Forced Entry "a straightforward and realistic slice of city life."
In Bad to the Bone, Moodrow, working as a private investigator, is on the case of a cult leader who has partnered with a drug dealer to create a highly addictive new drug. Solomita "balances the familiar . . . with the unexpected" in this tale, related a Publishers Weekly reviewer. As usual, Solomita "gives you the best ride in town," commented Stasio in the New York Times Book Review, praising the setting's local color, the dialogue's naturalism, and the plot's "exciting moments."
A Piece of the Action is set in 1957 and portrays Moodrow as a young man who has just graduated from beat cop to detective. Trying to solve a murder, he uncovers police corruption involving his mentor, who also happens to be the father of the woman Moodrow loves. Dick Adler, writing in Chicago Tribune Books, found Solomita spins a "compelling story" with interesting characters and an excellent depiction of the era. A Publishers Weekly reviewer also had good words for the book's setting and storytelling, summing it up as "hard-boiled police fiction at its best."
After featuring other protagonists in A Good Day to Die and Last Chance for Glory, Solomita returns to Moodrow—and to a present-day setting—in Damaged Goods. In this novel, aging private eye Moodrow and a young partner, Guinevere "Ginny" Gadd, go after murderous Mafioso Jilly Sappone, who resumes his criminal ways after being released from prison. The New York Times Book Review's Stasio thought the story "overburdened with cute devices," although "the pace is energetic." A Publishers Weekly critic was glad to see Moodrow back, deeming Solomita's work without the character "weaker." The critic praised Damaged Goods for its fast movement and "piercing urban melancholy."
The first of the non-Moodrow books, A Good Day to Die has as its main character another maverick New York police detective, Roland Means. Fellow officer Vanessa Bouton dislikes Means but nevertheless enlists his help in solving a string of murders of male prostitutes. In the New York Times Book Review, Stasio commented that Solomita seems more removed from his characters and settings than in the "Moodrow" stories, and that "Means is more talk than action." A Publishers Weekly reviewer also found the book "relentlessly talky" and "predictable" as well. Last Chance for Glory features another veteran cop, Bela Kosinski, now retired but helping technology-savvy private eye Marty Blake with his first case, joining a lawyer in efforts to free a man wrongly convicted of murder. In the view of a Publishers Weekly contributor, this book is "more successful" than A Good Day to Die, "but not by much." To Champlin, however, again critiquing for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Last Chance for Glory is "good and notably readable," with "engrossing" character portraits and a "heart-chilling" story.
Solomita's first book as David Cray, Keeplock, deals with a recently paroled career criminal, Peter Frangello, who is trying to lead a law-abiding life in the face of pressure from crooked friends and dishonest cops. "Cray . . . gives plenty of insider dope on the crime world and creates, in Frangello, an unexpectedly sympathetic unheroic hero," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic. Similarly, New York Times Book Review contributor Stasio called the characterization of Frangello "the big score" of "this gripping crime novel," and Chicago Tribune Books reviewer Adler observed that the narrative has a "burning honesty" that "makes us wish for [Frangello's] success." George Needham, writing in Booklist, gave Keeplock the status of highly recommended and found its ending reminiscent of "the classic finale of the 1930s movie I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang." A Kirkus Reviews commentator compared the book to another film (and novel), dubbing it "grimly exciting as The Asphalt Jungle."
Bad Laywer, the next Cray effort, features another protagonist seeking redemption: lawyer Sid Kaplan, who is trying to rebuild a once-brilliant career ruined by drugs and alcohol. In his comeback case, Kaplan represents a woman who admits she killed her husband but says she did so in self-defense. Both were involved with drugs, but the husband, the wife says, was abusive; Kaplan also thinks he can play to racial bigotry, as the wife is white and the late husband black. But Kaplan soon finds that the case is more complicated than he thought. The novel shows Cray to be "a master manipulator," reported Stasio in the New York Times Book Review, while a Kirkus Revews critic deemed it "a refreshingly unsentimental reply to all those fairy tales about lawyers whose ideals rise miraculously from the ashes." A Publishers Weekly reviewer added that the story is "clever, gritty, sordid and surprising."
Little Girl Blue features Julia Brennan, a New York homicide detective and single mother, investigating a young girl's murder. Brennan eventually finds herself going after a child prostitution and pornography ring whose members are threatening her teenage daughter. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the novel as "riveting," adding, "If a writer can produce a readable book about this odious subject, Cray has done it." Along the same lines, Stasio wrote that Little Girl Blue is "a credible business report on a vile cottage industry." Connie Fletcher, critiquing for Booklist, called the author "deft with procedure" and "a cunning plotter." What You Wish For finds Brennan working for the distric attorney's sex crimes unit and looking into the murder of a rich widow who has disinherited the children of her husband's previous marriage. Brennan's love interest, Peter Foley, introduced in Little Girl Blue as an investigator for the sex crimes unit, is on a case of his own, trying to free his daughter from the hands of a child pornography outfit that has kidnapped her. A Kirkus Reviews contributor thought the novel "has more a police procedural flavor—and, sadly, less flavor altogether" than its predecessor. A Publishers Weekly critic, however, deemed What You Wish For a "well-oiled crime novel" that "doesn't disappoint." Meanwhile, Mary Frances Wilken, writing in Booklist, characterized the book as "thoroughly engaging."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 15, 1995, George Needham, review of Keeplock, p. 898; November 1, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of Little Girl Blue, p. 461; December 15, 2002, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of What You Wish For, p. 737.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1995, review of Keeplock, pp. 86-87; December 1, 2000, review of Bad Lawyer, p. 1631; October 1, 2002, review of What You Wish For, p. 1428.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 9, 1988, Charles Champlin, "Bloody Sunday," p. 12; August 14, 1994, Charles Champlin, "Criminal Pursuits," p. 7.
New York Times Book Review, December 11, 1988, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Twist of the Knife, p. 34; October 8, 1989, Stasio, review of Force of Nature, p. 20; October 14, 1990, Amy Pagnozzi, "Too Obnoxious to Live," p. 47; June 16, 1991, Marilyn Stasio, review of Bad to the Bone, p. 21; October 24, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Good Day to Die, p. 28; March 19, 1995, Marilyn Stasio, review of Damaged Goods, p. 23; April 15, 2001, Marilyn Stasio, review of Bad Lawyer, p. 20; January 2, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Little Girl Blue, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1990, review of Forced Entry, p. 63; March 15, 1991, review of Bad to the Bone, p. 48; June 1, 1992, review of A Piece of the Action, p. 51; September 27, 1993, review of A Good Day to Die, p. 48; July 4, 1994, review of Last Chance for Glory, p. 54; January 30, 1995, review of Keeplock, p. 88; November 20, 1995, review of Damaged Goods, p. 68; June 15, 1998, review of Trick Me Twice, p. 57; December 4, 2000, review of Bad Lawyer, p. 56; October 29, 2001, review of Little Girl Blue, p. 38; October 14, 2002, review of What You Wish For, p. 63.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 5, 1992, Dick Adler, "Crime Thrives on the Bayou, at Cambridge and in Cairo," p. 6; March 5, 1995, Adler, "The Case of the Torn Lawyer," p. 7.
Washington Post Book World, December 17, 1989, Daniel Woodrell, "Rounding up the Usual Suspects," p. 9.*