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PROVING GROUND by Peter Blauner: Book Review

When Nathaniel “Natty Dread” Dresden returns from the Iraqi War, he’s not the same man he was before he was deployed.  Every loud noise is a mortar shell, every crowd on a Brooklyn street is a group of terrorists, every young boy has the face of the small Iraqi child he killed by mistake.  He’s trying hard to hold it all together, but it’s not working.

It doesn’t help that as Proving Ground opens, Natty’s father is murdered and found dead on the ground of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  David Dresden was, according to one’s political leanings, either a champion of the poor and disadvantaged or, in the words of the police captain at the scene, …”the lawyer every cop in the city hates.”

New York City police detective Lourdes Robles is partnered with Kevin Sullivan, the man she privately calls The Last of the Mohicans.  Kevin is only a few months away from retirement but he’s a cop who doesn’t quit, and Lourdes is attempting to pick up some of his tricks to try on her own.  Sensing that there’s going to be a lot of coverage of the murder, Kevin tries to give Lourdes the opportunity to keep her distance from it.

But Lourdes is determined to pursue every option to solve Dresden’s killing and prove herself to her colleagues.  She’s a woman who grew up in the projects, whose father is serving a life sentence in an upstate New York prison, whose mother locks herself in the bathroom so she can smoke even though she’s using an oxygen tank.  “You want me off, do whatever you have to do,” she says.  “But I’m not going willingly.”

At the time of David Dresden’s death he was trying to get reparations for an Egyptian man, suspected of being a terrorist, who was deported by the FBI and tortured.  David’s law partner, known to all as Benny G., invites Natty to help with the lawsuit against the federal agency, saying that’s what his father would have wanted.  But Natty wonders whether he will be able to help, given his emotional state, and wonders what is truly motivating Benny.

Is it because Benny thinks Natty can add to the defense, having been a prosecutor in Florida before he joined the Army?  Does Benny simply want to keep an eye on his former partner’s son because he’s worried about another violent episode that Natty might have?  Or is there a more sinister motive that Natty can’t quite figure out?

Peter Blauner is the author of Slow Motion Riot, which won the 1992 Edgar® for best first mystery.  Proving Ground, the author’s first mystery novel since Riot, is well worth the wait.  It’s a thrilling story that will have you emotionally involved from the first chapter, with nearly every character strongly imprinting his/her presence:  the tormented Natty Dresden, realizing that it’s too late to work through his complicated relationship with his father; the determined Lourdes Robles, wanting to overcome her disadvantaged background and follow in the footsteps of her aunt and mentor, another member of the New York City Police Department; Benny G., an attorney who brags that he’s never lost a case; Alice Ali-Dresden, David’s widow and Natty’s mother, feeling bereft after a long marriage that ended so violently, acknowledging that her writing career is over.

All these characters and several more will keep you turning the pages of Proving Ground faster and faster.  Peter Blauner has written a marvelous mystery that contains deep insights into what makes people do what they do.

You can read more about Peter Blauner at this web site.

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