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by S.J. Rozan
ISBN 0385339232 / 9780385339230 / 0-385-33923-2
› Find signed collectible books: 'Absent Friends'
Lawrence Block was early out of the gates with a crime novel, Small Town, that drew its sweeping story from the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, U.S. terrorist attacks, only to be followed closely by John le Carré (Absolute Friends) and Dan Fesperman (The Warlord's Son). Now comes S.J. Rozan. In Absent Friends, this Edgar Award-winning author takes a wide detour from her series featuring Manhattan private eyes Lydia Chin and Bill Smith (Winter and Night) to deliver a standalone yarn that is much more satisfying as a character study than a mystery.
Jimmy McCaffery, a decorated 46-year-old captain with the New York City Fire Department, was "notoriously publicity-shy but famous for daredevil heroic deeds." His death in the collapsing World Trade Center quickly came to symbolize the abundant sacrifices made on 9/11, as well as the ability of New Yorkers to mine courage from catastrophe. But when a newspaper alleges that McCaffery had long been funneling money from "a Staten Island developer and reputed organized crime figure" to the widow of Mark Keegan, a mechanic who'd been convicted for the 1979 self-defense shooting of a wannabe mobster (only to later perish during a prison fight), more than just McCaffery's reputation is put at risk. So are the late firefighter's closest childhood friends, who have maintained his secrets for much too long; Keegan's son, who has grown to accept his father's early demise and to hero-worship McCaffery; and Phil Constantine, the lawyer who defended Keegan and has since tried to engineer a relationship with his widow. When Harry Randall, the once-renowned newspaperman responsible for unearthing the McCaffery scandal, is killed in a fall from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge--is it suicide, or something more nefarious?--his much younger girlfriend, reporter Laura Stone, determines to continue that investigation. No matter where it leads, or who it might hurt.
Rozan is at her best when describing Manhattan immediately after the attacks:
This close to the site, a smoky scent drifted on the air. Fires were still burning under tons of dust and steel. Like everyone downtown, Laura had been smelling this odor for weeks; but still she was unsure whether it was a bitter smell, or sweet. The acridness was the scent of smoldering plastic, and steel, and jet fuel. The sweetness, she had been told, was flesh.
She does well, too, at dribbling out the facts of the McCaffery case, wrapping each with remorse, regret, or guilt; and at telling her tale from multiple viewpoints, her principal players shaped equally by pain and hope. However, the conclusion of Absent Friends is something of a letdown, less surprising or emotionally wrenching than it is merely complicated. Once more we are told that nothing is as simple as it seems. Certainly not love. --J. Kingston Pierce [via]