Saint Thomas Nolan, of the NYPD

Now that the entire series is released, I present to you the complete Hugh Dunnit book reviews for Declan Finn’s magnum opus°. The stories were a pleasure to read and in one case, to write as well. I am endlessly grateful to Declan Finn for letting me collaborate on a Saint Tommy story, released today (my 41st birthday). Read Vessel, by Josh Griffing and Declan Finn.

Damage and Demonology (Hell Spawn: Saint Tommy N.Y.P.D #1)

This book is one part “Exorcist”, two parts Ed McBain, a part-and-a-half “Die Hard”, and another healthy sklotch of “Monster Hunter International”, with “Lives Of The Saints” icing and medaeval folklore to taste. And it tastes great!

I’m not much for horror– and this was definitely “horror”– but Finn handles it deftly, not malingering over the gore or spraying the camera like a Ketchup Festival. Instead, he makes the brutality fully brutal and just off-screen, and knows that the horror of horror is not merely in numbers of deaths but in the wrongness of things, like photos of evidence that edit themselves away. Great action, lots of set-chewing, and a believable city even for those who’ve never been, without a mess of tourist reference-points. I don’t think he even mentions the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge, or even Central Park, one time in the first three books.

Did I mention the set-chewing? This is a very violent book. But aside from gruesome deaths by the villian(s) to minor or tangential parties, most of the violence is property damage as things get smashed, slashed, kicked, thrown, blown up, shot up, impaled, ripped apart, blown up… with astonishingly minimal loss of (character) life.

He also shows the BEST sort of religious worldbuilding: instead of an obligatory sermon and altar call, as in many “christian books,” he simply, and explicitly, assumes doctrinal premises up front, and the content and context grow organically from it. In this he equals the Mormon-underpinned stories of Orson Scott Card, Larry Correia, and Brad Torgersen. And not simply because I agree more closely with his doctrine: this is how it OUGHT to be done.

“Nonsense, dear. Chicken soup is good for a cold! Besides, it isn’t anyone we know.” (Death Cult:  St. Tommy N.Y.P.D #2)

Some spoilers:
Finn returns to the streets of Tommy Nolan’s New York City when the cult that summoned the Hell Spawn demon takes out a hit on St. Tommy’s family. But killers are too prone to talk, unless they’re already dead.
Another scenery-chewing romp from the very first page, but the action now outweighs the horror — less “Hannibal,” and more “HellBoy” — as new allies and previously unrealized foes surround the hero. An excellent antidote to Having-To-Go-To-Bed, so don’t start the book too close to bedtime.

The visuals here are very clearly presented, whether panoramic views, long narrow corridor shots, or close-ups of more-than-mortal combats. The detective’s investigation is very refreshingly plebian: he’s in the dark about the enemy as long as the reader is, and learns his answers by ordinary means. But the final confrontation is ANYTHING but ordinary.

The title of this review is an old Far Side caption (hat tip to Gary Larson!), per the way Finn handles the zombies in this volume. Every single stiff of them is anonymous. We’re never told their names, or shown who they were in life. And their corporeal destruction is no desecration of their passing.

Guest appearance of G. K. Chesterton as a Harry Dresden cosplayer.

Damned Politics. (Infernal Affairs, St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. #3)
After Tommy burned down the titular *Death Cult* in the last book, someone has put a price on Detective Nolan’s head so high that not even his own precinct is safe.

There were run-ins with the men of Internal Affairs before, with every officer-involved shooting as he put down the Death Cult and its Hell Spawn.  Now it looks like they’re the last men in his corner as even good cops go bad for a bounty too high to resist.  The menace of MS-13 is still alive and well, but what rot runs so deep that the only cop standing up to them is Public Enemy Number One?

Let Your New York Light Shine (City of Shadows, Saint Tommy N.Y.P.D. #4)

Tommy’s been through a lot lately.  A hell of a lot.  So when the chance to work overseas for a while is offered, he kisses his family and flies off to London.  But how can you lie low in the shadows when the shadows are prowling for blood?

A mad imam has taken possession of a very powerful artefact, one that predates the Flood and Eden itself.  In righteous hands, it might do powerful good.  But in the hands of the Jihad, it can level cities. 

There is no option but to stop the Imam, or all the righteous in London may all-too-soon become saints.  And every Saint is dead.

Spade and Archer.  Packard and Nolan.  Nero Wolfe and that other guy. (They Burn Witches, Don’t They?  A Saint Tommy N.Y.P.D. Story, #1)

I first read this one in the “Supernatural Streets” anthology, which I bought for Declan Finn’s story, rumored to be in his Saint Tommy, NYPD universe. I was not disappointed, and the rest of the stories were just icing the cake.

Tommy Nolan’s lonsuffering partner, Alex Packard, takes on a coven of VERY wicked witches while Tommy’s in London (City of Shadows). In Finn’s usual fast-paced style, punches are not pulled, wit is drier than Phillip Marlowe’s martini, and the ending is perfect. This is short-form Finn, at his best.

The charisms that Tommy uses in his action scenes are replaced with Alex’s gumshoe legwork and fast gun.  He has seen enough  live evil not to discredit it, and that’s a leg up on the rest of the force.  But Alex is not in sidekick mode here; without Tommy Nolan he holds his own as a protagonist in his own right.  If there’d been a few more hometown stories I’d have liked to see more of this side of him.

*Somebody* Let the Dogs Out. (Lupus Dei — A St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. Short Story )

As if the diabolical dragnet at home wasn’t bad enough, Tommy’s barely gotten to Europe on his latest mission, before he’s kidnapped by witches– not cute teen magic-dabblers from an Archie comic, but the kind that routinely sacrifice puppies.  Now the coven’s set its sights on a most dangerous game, and Detective Nolan’s no shi-tzu to roll over and play dead.

Vamps and Vampires and Golems, oh my! (Crusader, St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. #5)

First of all, don’t mess with Tommy. Second of all, don’t mess with the kids.

This is another fine page turner in the Saint Tommy, NYPD series, and the second part of the second trilogy. There’s less police legwork and psychological suspense in books four and five than in the first three, but Finn still finds sufficient scenery to maul. And if the German sex club (named oh-so-subtly “Ficken”: you figure it out) and the Stasi barracks full of Jihadi Nazi vampires aren’t enough, the rock concert (a new level of DEATH metal until Nolan shows up!) and the grounds of Himmler’s manse should more than make up for it.

Here, Tommy’s up against a ring of sex-trafficking kidnappers, but discovers almost at once that they’re following a succubus– an actual sex-torturing she-devil (or four)– summoned by the mad imam from City of Shadows, and working in her turn to summon something even worse. Things go BOOM. Scenery is chewed. Miracles are weaponized against the forces of darkness and their silly headgear. And Detective Nolan has an omniglot psychic kid for his sidekick. But that’s enough spoilers.

Four out of five: at about the 33% mark, Nolan recognizes the second of his succubi immediately, merely by the Stench of Evil (which could hang over any malefactor) and her too-close physical resemblance to the first one: this strikes me as far too pat and easy, especially for a honed NYPD detective AND charismist* like Nolan. There’s one fight scene with four succubi at once, but then the others are dead? Dismissed? Even if they were dispatched into eternity, they should get a slight mention by somebody later into the book. There’s also none of the meatiness of the first trilogy’s scene-setting here: it’s the difference between a place the author knows about and a place he’s lived or lives in. Declan’s at home in New York City, and it shows in the books set there. He’s been to London, if City of Shadows is any indication. Unfortunately, his Prague and Bavaria are just names on the map by comparison.

It’s still a good and rollicking read.

Leave the Book Alone!  (Principle Necromancy:  A Saint Tommy N.Y.P.D. Story #2)

J. R. R. Tolkien famously refused to sell movie rights for Lord of the Rings because he just knew that the filmmakers would ruin it. It’s the dread of every writer and book-lover: what if they completely ruin the story? Will they bury it in political posing, or have they misrepresented the theme entirely? Is the serious message reduced to slapstick?

Is the action story just plain dead? Literally?

Tommy’s in Rome, and a sidetrack takes him to the set where one of his son’s favorite books is filming. It’s every reader’s and writer’s worst nightmare, but the smell of evil hanging over the filming leads Tommy to greater horrors than a badly-written script.

(This story also appears as a flashback in “Light Bringer”.)

Both guns blazing (Deus Vult, St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. #6)

Readers of Finn’s “Saint Tommy” series will not be disappointed. This time our streetwise Saint takes on demoniacs, left-wing causes, and … the Archdiocese of Boston? There’s always something new and sinister assailing the innocents in Thomas Nolan’s charge: this time, Finn opens the action with a massacred and desecrated monastery, a shape-shifting demoniac, and a suspiciously-funded bureaucracy at the diocese office. But this time, both Alex from the NYPD and Father Pearson from the Vatican are along for backup, and Tommy will need all the backup he can get.

Fans of the “Pius Man” trilogy will also recognize references to a certain ass-kicking pontiff, and his XO even makes an appearance.

Tommy’s Back in Town!  (Coven, St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. #7)

Tommy just saved the whole Eastern U.S. from a rainbow-painted kaiju– you think he’d catch a break. But this is Tommy Nolan we’re talking about: Back home in the Big Apple, he’s taking on unvirtuous neo-pagans, ancient artefacts, CPS, and a plot to—

Well, you’ll have to pick it up and find out, won’t you?

The neo-pagan Coven of the title hides its wickedness behind an obscure Army post tucked into an unexceptional NYC borough, the sort of Fort that had its heyday in the late Cold War and its doom on the ’90s BRAC* list, now probably just host to a couple of National Guard brigades and a training center.  As usual in Tommy’s cases, there’s more going on than it seems, and the evil runs deeper than it looks. 

Nearly five-star, except for the fumble of Navy officer ranks for Army (most jarring when the base commander is a Captain– in the Army an O-3, just up from Lieutenant, but in the Navy an O-6, a likely enough candidate for the post if it’s a Navy base).  Some excellent car chases, though. 
Off-peak, but well worth reading.

Come out and play, children! (Hussar, St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. #8)

I have it from a reliable source that Mr. Finn did not base his portrayal of Antifa here on their mayhem last summer [2020]. That said, this is a tight and timely bit of ruckus that takes Detective Nolan from New York to Texas to the Kaliningrad Oblast where Russia borders on Poland and history runs deep– and sometimes climbs out!

The Nolan kids we met in earlier books are now back from Rome, and holding their own against the enemy, on top of which this evening’s dance card includes ecto-zombies, evil priests, Texas Rangers, and more weaponized miracles, and miraculous weapons, than any NYPD detective has any business signing for.

Unless, of course, that detective’s name is Tommy Nolan.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I don’t have much to confess. I’ve been too busy.  (Destiny St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. #9)

Tommy Nolan bares his soul to His Holiness the Bishop of Rome, and it’s true: he HAS been busy. In the three years since the last book, this is his first chance to take his family out of town properly, on an Italian vacation, but his old foe Bergolio is waiting for him. Like a Tom Petty hero, Detective Nolan is stood up at the airport gates of hell, but he won’t back down. He’s only getting started.

Evil has come to the Holy See. Renegade priests and beautiful young witches, and demons from Tyre to Tír-na-nÓg, are assaulting the Vatican, and it will take all Tommy’s gifts to keep himself and his family alive and get to the bottom of it. Bergolio’s after the Soul Stone, the power of which is measured in TNT kilotons, if at all, and he still carries the Spear of Destiny. More destinies than one will be decided before the Nolans see New York again.

As a protestant I had some theological issues here and there with the workings of Finn’s unapologetically Papist world, but Declan’s a Catholic himself; I don’t read his books for doctrinal nuance but because he writes a rip-roaring, scene-shredding masterpiece. He could write about Irish Folk-Music and there’d be explosions in there someplace, or a gunfight at least. (Come to think of it, he did!)

Most of the action is in Rome, which from my limited European travels feels very much like an old-boned Old World city. In Rome, one HAS TO visit the Colosseum, the Arch of Titus, and Trajan’s Pillar at least: Tommy visits mayhem on all three, defending himself and his family from supernatural assaults.

Read Destiny (St. Tommy N.Y.P.D #9). You’ll have a blast! (Kinda like that Quaint Italian Village™️ that Tommy’s investigation leads him to, come to think of it.)

Getting too old for this… (Light Bringer, St. Tommy N.Y.P.D. #10)

Tommy Nolan was in his thirties when the wonderworking started. Now he’s forty-five, and feeling it. His kids are grown up and married, working ops for the federal government. But neither the Lord nor the devil are quite done with him yet. Tommy and the kids, and his old partner Alex, are the core of the FBI’s new supernatural-threats task force, and they’re back in New York. We see more of Tommy’s own struggles here, as a family crisis draws him out in sharper lines and deeper tones.

What starts as a Rod Sterling episode of CSI quickly unspools into the last great smash-hit for one film studio and its parent media empire. Most studios like a good blockbuster. But when Detective Nolan rips the scab off the lies behind the murder, he finds that the rot runs clear to the bone. From busting celebrity pedophiles and clearing a vampire brothel, naming folks in high places and shining a light under their beds, and fighting a carload of zombies on the Long Island train, Tommy and his allies deliver a bunker-buster instead.

The pacing lags in a few spots as Tommy, et al, catch breathers from wreaking havoc on hell to examine successive layers of the conspiracy they’re up against, and more than one scandalous celebrity is subjected to Finn’s ‘Roman a clef,’ but “Light Bringer” is a love note to the American media industry, just as “Destiny” was to the Italian customs and tourism agencies.

Oh look: it’s twelve forty-five! The kids are asleep and I have work in the morning…. I can relate to Tommy’s sentiment a bit. But is that any reason NOT to grab the next St. Tommy book as soon as it drops? Are you kidding me? I might finish up at three AM next time.

Dark Saint:  Witchfire and the Prince of Lawyers.
(Dark Web: St. Tommy, NYPD #11)

(The reviewer was graciously provided an eARC of the book by the author.)
The penultimate book in Saint Tommy’s story is also the darkest yet.  As with Light Bringer, this story takes place three years after the previous book.  The kids– Tommy’s son Jeremy and ward Lena– are grown up, married (to each other:  as noted in Light Bringer, it’s a good thing Tommy couldn’t adopt Lena when he rescued her in Europe in book 5), and have both been working for the CIA for several years.  They’re as deadly a pair of super-spies as one might hope to meet, or fear to cross.  Miriel’s cancer– a troublesome subplot in Light Bringer— has gotten worse.  Since book 10 she’s worn Tommy’s Soul Ring to keep it at bay, but the tumor hasn’t gone away.  Tommy’s father– hitherto unseen for very good reasons, it turns out– arrives unannounced.   And with his advent, St. Tommy’s own darker impulses come into play.  At least we can’t pretend he’s a Marty Stu.

The book opens with a demon-fight on Miriel’s cancer ward, followed by a City lawyer with an Anime name serving Tommy with a subpoena for past books’ scenery-chewing.  When Aaron Nolan (Tommy’s dad) arrives, it’s pursuant to the mail-order kidnapping of a Catholic YouTube celebrity wreviewer0hose abductors had him shipped to New York.  The plot was orchestrated through the “dark web”– the secret and seedy part of the internet where clients can buy anything or anyone for the right price.  As Tommy’s team (Tommy, Jeremy,  Lana, and Alex Packard, plus a couple of Texas Rangers) hunt down the buyers, sellers, and servers responsible, everyone from drug-OD zombies and university faculty, to the Illuminati and the People’s Republic of China are hell-bent on stopping them, permanently if possible.  We see Tommy’s violent temper up close, and Jeremy’s CIA methods border on psychopathy.  Did I mention this book was dark, yet?

A reluctant four out of five, though on a ten-star scale it’s a nine:  87% overall.  The investigation into the Dark Web kidnappers often feels far too pat, and the resolution with Tommy’s father is too simplistic, almost perfunctory in its way.  But like an I-95 access ramp, there’s always a lot going on.

As in prior Saint Tommy books, we are most at home in the burroughs and back-streets of New York City.  Finn’s books lay on his love for his city and his contempt for its politics in nearly equal measure, and nearly every set, in town or out, is prime for chewing, including the Nolans’ front lawn.  Cars are smashed in the afternoon and tossed around by monster after supper.  And almost everyone Tommy has fought, either for, alongside, or against, makes some appearance before the finale.  (A few foes, either blasted, blessed-away, or ‘bliterated, were unable to attend.)  The Saint Tommy books are in triads, and this one works well as the bridge of the final trilogy.  We’ve known since ‘Hell Spawn‘ how the last book ends, and Tommy’s final story arc is one worth that ending.  I’m eager to see how Declan wraps it up.

Blue Saint Blues (Blue Saint:  Saint Tommy N.Y.P.D  #12) by Declan Finn

(The reviewer was graciously provided an eARC of the book by the author.)
We knew all along that it was coming to this.  There’s no spoiler in saying Tommy dies at the end, as it’s been the only possible outcome from the start of book 1.  But the way Finn symphonizes Tommy Nolan’s swan song is a concert worth attending to.  There are tender moments, humble reflections on the great grace of God, farewells to old friends and foes, and– would it *be* Tommy Nolan otherwise?– plenty of shit getting blown absolutely to hell, and often literally.

It’s been another three years since we last rode along with St. Tommy.  With his wife gone (Dark Web) and son Jeremy wed to Tommy’s ward Lena (Light Bringer, and set up across the third triad), Tommy’s a widowed grandpa nearing fifty when the ghosts of men he sent to hell long before come back to town, and they’re out for blood.  As in the prior two books, Tommy’s up against Satan himself, walking New York in the body of a lich.  This time, though, there can be no letting the big one get away.  It’s here and now, or never again.  Lieutenant Nolan will need every tool, every charism (well, most o them anyway), and every surviving ally from a quarter-century of fighting hell from Siberia to Texas.  Because Lucifer hasn’t been idle, either, and Tommy must face two legions of hell, led by the vengeful revenant of the MS-13 shot-caller he sent to Perdition in Infernal Affairs.

The fights are wilder, the stakes are higher,  the explosions are more spectacular, the Apple is Bigger, and the set-chewing is quite literally over the top, from up in Queens down to the King Kong Memorial in Manhattan.  Finn’s love for the city comes through in every page.

Rarely does a series this long finish up this well.  But Declan Finn has done it.

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