CROOKED NUMBERS by Tim O’Mara: Book Review

Now a teacher at a public school in Manhattan, Raymond Donne was formerly a New York City policeman who changed careers following a tragic accident.  When one of his former students, now a student at a prestigious private school, is stabbed to death under the Williamsburg Bridge, Ray gets a phone call from the boy’s mother and becomes drawn into the case.

Douglas Lee was the perfect student for Upper West Academy in Manhattan to feature in its brochures in order to increase its number of minority students:  a bright African-American teenager with a slight learning disability being raised by a single mother.  Dougie was popular and well-liked, both in his neighborhood and at his school, but somehow he ended up murdered.  And when the police see that he’s wearing the colors of a local street gang and has bags of marijuana in his socks, they’re sure this is a drug-related death.  It seems as if there will be little official follow-up to this crime, so Mrs. Lee contacts Ray to see if he has any clout, as a former cop and Dougie’s former teacher, to try to keep the investigation open.

Crooked Numbers follows Ray as he meets with Allison Rogers, a journalist he met several months earlier when he was on the police force and who is covering Dougie’s death for her newspaper.  Also involved in the investigation is Dennis Mercer, a detective who graduated from the police academy with Ray and was formerly romantically involved with Ray’s sister.  Dennis wants to believe the investigation is over, minimal as it was, but Allison and Ray persuade him to keep it open a few more days by talking about negative publicity for the police force if nothing more is seen to be done.  “We both know how they love a good cops-screwed-up piece next to a picture of the victim’s grieving mother,” Ray tells Dennis.

There is a terrific sense of place in Crooked Numbers.  The differences between Williamsburg, the section of Brooklyn where Dougie and his mother lived, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan are brilliantly portrayed.  As the author says, the distance is slight.  “Five miles.  Geographically.  Demographically, the Upper West Side might as well be on the other side of the world.”

Tim O’Mara also writes some memorable characters.  In addition to the ones mentioned above, there is Tito, head of the Brooklyn gang the Royal Family, and he doesn’t like the fact that someone put those “gang” beads around Dougie’s neck; no way was that kid a member of his gang.  There’s Elliot Henry Finch, a classmate of Dougie’s at the Academy who’s also a serious birdwatcher and computer nerd.  There are the two friends of Dougie’s from the Academy, Jack Quinn and Paulie Sherman.  And then there are Angel Rodriguez, a student at Ray’s public middle school who is being harassed and bullied by some older kids at his bus stop, and Angel’s father, who takes steps to stop it.

Crooked Numbers is the second in the Raymond Donne series, and I’m going back to read the first book, Sacrifice Fly.  I have no doubt it is as engrossing and well-written as its successor.

You can read more about Tim O’Mara at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

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