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THE GRAVES by Pamela Wechsler: Book Review

Assistant district attorney Abby Endicott is facing a number of personal challenges in her life.  There’s her mother’s refusal to deal with alcohol abuse, Abby’s out-of-control financial debts, the two-edged sword of possibly being named district attorney now that the current one is running for mayor, and her confused feelings about her live-in boyfriend.  Then the perfect storm–all these challenges come together when a body is found.

Still on a leave of absence following a homicide, Abby simply can’t stay away from the action.  So when she gets a call from Boston police detective Kevin Farnsworth that a corpse has been found in an alley in the city’s Eastie section, Abby is on her way.  The victim is a young woman with what look like strangulation marks on her neck, a death that is very similar to that of a Boston University student whose body was found a few weeks earlier.  Both women had similar bruises, both apparently had been raped and their bodies moved from where the murders took place.

There’s no identification with the second body, but there is an ink stamp on the back of one hand.  It’s the design of a bar in Cambridge that Abby knows from her days at Harvard Law School, so she and Kevin head over to the Crazy Fox to see if someone knew the woman.  The bar’s manager says he can’t identify her from the cell phone video that Kevin shows him, but the bar’s security camera confirms that she had been there that night.  She apparently entered the Crazy Fox alone, but she left with a man, and when the manager tells Abby and Kevin that man’s name, Abby knows the case has just entered dangerous territory.  The man is Tommy Greenough, the son of a senator and a member of one of Boston’s richest families.

What makes Abby a particularly interesting heroine is the mix of positive and negative attributes she has; she’s most decidedly not a one-dimensional character.  On the positive side:  she’s bright, determined, not awed by authority.  On the negative:  she’s deeply in debt, spoiled by the life she’s led thus far, and facing attractions to other men besides the one with whom she’s living.  At times you will admire her, at other times you’ll want to shake her into recognition of how the real world works for most people.  There are a great couple of sentences near the end of the book that encapsulate my point:  “On the way home from work, I stop by Macy’s,  I’ve walked past the store a million times, but have never been inside.  I’m desperate since I had to let go of my housekeeper….”  You get the point.  But so does she, and she’s working on changing her life to fit her new circumstances.

The Graves is an excellent follow-up to Mission Hill, the first book featuring Abby Endicott.  I’m looking forward to the third novel in the series to see where Abby’s next case takes her.

You can read more about Pamela Wechsler at this website.

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


MISSION HILL by Pamela Wechsler: Book Review

Abby Endicott is not your typical assistant district attorney, not by a long shot. Probably not too many ADAs carry Prada bags, receive a monthly $15,000 allowance from their family’s trust fund, wear floor-length Armani gowns, and walk around in Jimmy Choos.  But all that’s surface, because the protagonist of Pamela Wechsler’s debut novel, Mission Hill, is incredibly serious and professional about her job.

As Mission Hill opens, Abby is awakened by a phone call from her close friend, Boston police detective Kevin Farnsworth.  Abby knows that only a murder would cause Kevin to call her at 3:00 a.m., and within ten minutes she’s dressed and ready to walk out the door.  Quiet as she tries to be, her movements awaken Ty Clarke, her significant other.  Although the two don’t technically live together, Ty spends most of his time at Abby’s, whose two-thousand-square-foot apartment is a good deal nicer than his own.  Reluctant to make their relationship permanent or even talk about the reasons she feels this way, Abby is content to continue things as they are.

When Abby arrives at the crime scene in Mission Hill, she is horrified to discover that the victim is Tim Mooney, her colleague in the district attorney’s office and her former lover.  Their affair began while both were single but, in fact, continued for months after Tim’s marriage until he finally told Abby it was over.  Abby has never gotten past her love for Tim, which is one reason she cannot commit to Ty.  Another reason, although she’s reluctant to admit it even to herself, is her concern about how her family will view them as a couple; Tim is a black musician with hippie parents, one white and one black, while Abby’s parents are movers and shakers in Boston society.

Tim was about to begin the murder trial of Orlando Jones, a member of Boston’s notorious North Street Posse.  Abby has some history with Orlando, going back to her teenage years.  He tried to rob her best friend, Crystal, and to get away from him Crystal ran into the street and was run over.  Orlando contended that she tripped, but Abby remains convinced that he pushed her.  In any case, a case for murder or even manslaughter could not be proven against him; he went to juvenile detention and was released when he was eighteen.  In the following years, he’s committed multiple crimes, but due to his violent reputation the witnesses against him either changed their testimony or disappeared.

Now Abby wants to take over Tim’s case.  She persuades her boss, District Attorney Max Lombardo, to appoint her as the prosecutor, although he tells her it’s against his better judgment because she’s too personally involved; that was the reason she didn’t get the case originally.  But Abby is persistent, and finally it pays off.  However, Max warns her, “It’s a tough case.  If you lose, you’ll never forgive yourself.”  Abby’s response–“Then I won’t lose.”  Thus the murder trial begins.

Pamela Wechsler, a former Boston prosecutor herself, knows the ins-and-outs of the city as well as she knows the Massachusetts legal system.  Her novel is tough, realistic, and intense, and so too is her heroine.   I can’t wait for the next Abby Endicott novel.

You can read about Pamela Wechsler at this web site.

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


TERMINAL CITY by Linda Fairstein: Book Review

The young woman’s body was found in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria, the luxury Manhattan hotel that was home, over the years, to such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe and Cole Porter.  The suite was supposed to be unoccupied, but someone had entered with the victim, killed her, and left unseen. The New York City police are under a tight deadline to solve this crime–in less than a week, the president of the United States will be checking into the Waldorf while visiting the city to address the United Nations.

The corpse has no identification, and in addition to her slashed throat she has marks on her back and legs.  The marks look like “ladders” that were carved into her skin deliberately.  What could they mean?

Then a second body is found in an alley near the hotel.  This time the victim is a man, probably homeless, so initially there seems no connection to the first crime.  But a closer inspection shows that his body has the same “ladder” marks as the first one.  When the neighborhood patrolman sees the body, he immediately knows who it is.  The victim’s name is Carl, and he lived in the train tunnels under Grand Central Terminal. 

Grand Central was the brainchild of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt.  First there was Grand Central Depot, then Grand Central Station, but they weren’t large enough for all the trains entering and leaving the city.  Vanderbilt recognized that to maintain the city’s superiority it needed to be a major railroad hub, so the immense terminal was built and completed in 1913.  Sparing no expense, it has floors of Tennessee marble, wall trim of Italian marble, and ceiling tiles in the Oyster Bar that were copied from those in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in uptown Manhattan.  Stone statues adorn the building’s fasçade.

Now assistant district attorney Alex Cooper and her team, including police detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, are trying to find the connection between the first corpse and the second.  The people who live in the tunnels, like Carl, are called “moles.”  So Alex, Mike, and Mercer go underground in hopes of finding out something about Carl that will help them solve both murders.

Terminal City is a fascinating read because of its characters, its plot, and its sense of history.  Alex is a tough woman, a formidable prosecutor of sex crimes, but her history has made her vulnerable in her private life.  Her relationship with Mike Chapman is currently at its strongest point, or it was until Mike was out of touch for several weeks and then returned to the city without telling Alex.  Now she’s not sure where she stands with him, and he evades all her questions.

Linda Fairstein’s knowledge of New York City is encyclopedic, as she has proven in Terminal City and her other novels.  Here she takes the reader into every part of Grand Central, into places so removed from its elegant bar and historic Tiffany clock that it’s like traveling to another world.  Her characters are strong and believable, and the plot moves at a rapid pace.  And then, of course, there’s the delight in learning about the building itself, a National Historic Landmark since 1976.  No matter where you’re reading Terminal City, you’ll feel as if you’re in the Big Apple.

You can read more about Linda Fairstein at this web site.

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