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Book Author: Daniel Friedman

RUNNING OUT OF ROAD by Daniel Friedman: Book Review

Buck Schatz is the very personification of a grumpy old man.  Actually he was a grumpy young man too, but he’s gotten more cranky and gruff as he’s aged.  He makes no apology for this, as he believes he has sufficient reasons:  he has dementia, needs a cane to manage even hesitant steps, his wife has terminal cancer, they are living in a studio apartment in an assisted living facility, and their only son died years earlier.

Despite all that, Buck is determined not to give in or give up.  He was once a tough detective on the Memphis police force, a man who faced anti-semitism at every step of his career, as well as questions as to his treatment of those he arrested, and he feels that his reputation for solving murders is pretty much all he has left.

One particular arrest from decades ago has come back to haunt him.  Chester March is on death row for the murder of his wife Margery, and he has enlisted the aid of an NPR reporter, saying that the reason he confessed is that Buck beat the confession out of him.  Now Buck is afraid that March and the reporter may take his reputation away from him.

When he was investigating the case, Buck wondered if Margery was March’s first victim.  He went through the list of unsolved cases of murdered women in the area and found one that appeared similar.  Cecilia Tompkins was last seen getting into a white man’s car, a car that matched the description of the one that belonged to March, and sometime later her brutalized corpse was found.  The killer had tried to dissolve her body using lye, and when that proved impossible her corpse was thrown into the Mississippi River.  Buck thought that the case wasn’t pursued very vigorously, if at all, because she was a black prostitute.

During his investigation Buck visited the street where Cecilia worked and talked to the friend who reported her missing.  When he showed the woman fifteen newspaper photos of various white men, she pointed to March’s picture without hesitation.  Now Buck was more sure than ever that March was responsible for the deaths of both Cecilia Tompkins and Margery March.  Although it couldn’t be proven that March had killed Cecilia, he was convicted of murdering his wife and condemned to be put to death by electrocution.

Running Out Of Road is a portrait of a man whom time seems to have passed by.  There’s virtually no one on the Memphis police force who remembers him, and a police union rep isn’t any help.  At the end of the novel there’s a very telling conversation between Buck and Carlos Watkins, the NPR journalist who brought March’s upcoming execution before the public.  The two men have totally different points of view regarding justice and society, and it makes for riveting reading.

In Watkins’ view of justice, the problem is that the entire system is oppressive, corrupt.  “If you repair or dismantle oppressive systems, you solve your Chester (March) problem.”  But to Buck Schatz, justice is very different.  “There are always going to be monsters.  The systems don’t make them.  We make the system to protect the rest of us from them….That was justice as I understood it….”

Daniel Friedman has written a fascinating book that explores the American justice system  and the sometimes irreconcilable differences between those on opposite sides who hold tightly to their version of right.  It’s a mystery that will make you question your own beliefs.

You can read more about Daniel Friedman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DON’T EVER LOOK BACK by Daniel Friedman: Book Review

In Don’t Ever Look Back by Daniel Friedman, Baruch (Buck) Schatz is trying desperately to prove that old age can’t hold him back. 

Buck was a detective with a reputation for violence on the Memphis police force.  His favorite weapon was a nightstick, followed by a rolled-up telephone directory when he was questioning suspects, and he shot and killed more than a dozen people in the line of duty.  All together, not a role model to emulate.  But one thing Buck says about himself, he was never corrupt.

When we meet Buck in the second novel in the series, he’s living with his wife in an assisted living facility.  Now, at age eighty-eight, he is using a walker, getting physical therapy, and reluctantly coming to recognize that he’s not the man he used to be.  But he still doesn’t want to give up without a fight.

In 1965, midway through Buck’s career, Memphis was facing a strike by the city’s black dockworkers.  At the same time, Buck is approached by a mysterious European named Elijah who thinks he can enlist the detective’s help because they’re both Jews. 

Elijah is a Holocaust survivor who saw his mother, father, and sister killed at Treblinka.  In his contempt for all governments he has become a bank robber, believing that the atrocities his people suffered over the years give him the right to flout laws and take what he wants. 

He hasn’t approached Buck to offer him a bribe, Elijah insists.  “I wish to engage your participation in a rather elaborate and highly lucrative criminal enterprise,” he tells Buck. Buck declines his offer. 

“And here’s a fair warning,” Buck says, “since I reckon you’ve seen your share of suffering.  Don’t pull any jobs in my town.  Because, if you test me, I’ll kill you, kindred soul or not.”

The city’s police have been after the mysterious Elijah for years, knowing he was guilty of many crimes but unable to prove anything against him.  When Buck comes across evidence that Elijah is planning to break into the “invulnerable” vault of the Cotton Planters Union Bank at the same time the strikers are massing a block away, he’s torn between alerting his fellow officers and his feeling that Elijah’s attempted theft will reinforce the anti-Semitic feeling in the department and the city.

Don’t Ever Look Back‘s chapters alternate between 2009 and 1965.  In the forty-four years in between, Elijah has prospered and remained free, but now he has come to Buck for a favor.  

Buck Schatz isn’t an easy man to admire.  He’s done his share of illegal things as a detective, is stubborn, willful, and has a really foul mouth.  But he has his own ethical standards, strange as some of them may be, and this reader ended up both liking and admiring him.  Don’t Ever Look Back is a terrific read, fast-paced, with characters who simply jump off the page.  Don’t miss it.

One more thing.  There’s a beautiful Author’s Note at the end of the book.  The author’s grandfather, Harold “Buddy” Friedman, died in 2013 at the age of ninety-seven.  He was a man typical of his age, and in fact he sounds a lot like my late father, a former New York City police captain, who died in 2006 at the age of 93.  If they’d known each other, I think they would have been friends.

You can read more about Daniel Friedman at this web site.

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