By Ryan Zunner
City of Blight is described as a “House of Cards meets The Sopranos on a local level,” and boy does it deliver.
The book is set in Buffalo, and, like its author John W. Howell, tells the tale of a middle-aged Nickel City native returning to where it all started for him; lovely Buffalo, New York. While it appears on the outside that Buffalo is seeing a resurgence, the main character, Paul, learns the hard way that the city still has skeletons in her closet.
Paul comes back to Buffalo for several reasons, the chiefly to reconnect with his high school sweetheart who also recently returned Buffalo after her national newscasting career ended prematurely. Their rekindling of love was short-lived, so short, in fact, that she is murdered after only one night of their reunion. Paul is quickly framed for the murder by local police, but does the conspiracy go further up? Where does the money lead? Who is pulling the strings?
City of Blight will often lead you to ask yourself questions such as those, and it gets more intense as the book race through its 272 pages. As the story advances, more names and places become intertwined in this Buffalo conspiracy. All are a play on words of the book City of Light, which was published in 1999 by Lauren Belfer with a similar plot structure, albeit set during the Pan-Am Exposition of 1901.
Howell’s book is a must-read for any Buffalonian or anyone wanting to feel more connected to the city. Howell often makes great mention of and provides attention to detail of the locations in the book, which will make locals feel as if they are in the book. Whether local restaurants, TV stations, parks, roads, or other landmarks, Howell tries to mirror the real modern Buffalo to a tee. While this book is fiction, he paints Buffalo in a light that seems like it could almost be real.
City of Blight is truly a one-of-a-kind book for Buffalo. If you have a chance to pick up a copy, I highly encourage it. The book can be purchased online right from the publisher, No Frills Buffalo. If you are feeling the urge to shop even more local, you can visit one of the city’s independent bookstores, Talking Leaves Books in the Elmwood Village, or Burning Books Buffalo on the West Side.