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Posts Tagged ‘police corruption’

SUNRISE HIGHWAY by Peter Blauner: Book Review

The saying “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em” is a famous line from Twelfth Night.  Can it also be that some are born evil and some have evil thrust upon them?

Hauppauge, New York is the kind of small town people move to in order to escape violence and crime in the big city.  On the surface all is well in this town with its good public schools and its strong police force and judiciary.  But under the surface things are rotten.

In 1977, a young white girl is killed in a wooded area of town, with a bunch of twigs and leaves stuffed down her throat.  Suspicion immediately falls on Delaney Patterson, one of the few young black men in town.  The police theorize that Delaney, who had recently moved to Hauppauge and was touted to be a star on the high school football team, got in with the wrong crowd when an injury forced him off the gridiron.

Detective “Billy the Kid” Rattigan tells the new, naive, and eager-to-please assistant district attorney, Kenny Makris, that he believes the young man and the girl had a fight, possibly over drugs, and that Delaney killed her.  Rattigan even has someone who witnessed, or nearly witnessed, what happened–that both young people went into the woods but only Delaney came out.  And the witness is Joey T., then the teenage son of a police officer in town.

Now, thirty years later, Joey T. has become the town’s police chief.  He is in control of every aspect of the law, and those who oppose him do so at their peril.  It’s Joey T. who seems to have been born evil and Kenny Makris who has evil thrust upon him.  But evil is insidious, and once Kenny has taken that first step over to the “dark side,” it’s too late to reconsider.

Into this situation comes Lourdes Robles, a New York City police detective.  She is called to Far Rockaway in that city’s borough of Queens when a large green bag is washed up on the shore.  Upon opening the bag it’s discovered that inside is the corpse of a pregnant woman, her throat stuffed with rocks.  Given that Far Rockaway is almost swimming distance to Nassau County, Lourdes and her team reach out to the police there and are surprised at their colleagues’ immediate determination to take over the case.  It’s too quick, Lourdes thinks, and she determines not to give up the case until she’s forced to do so.

Joey T. runs his town with an iron fist, and those who try to oppose him are dealt with summarily.  He is adept at finding the chinks in one’s armor, and if they doesn’t exist he’ll use force to get his way.  The combination of threats and bribery has made him untouchable.  That is, until Lourdes comes to town.  She is a heroine fighting her own family-related demons, but they will not get in the way of her solving the case. 

Sunrise Highway will have you hooked from its first chapter.  Peter Blauner has written a chilling novel, with a strong, believable plot and realistic characters.   You can read more about him 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.

THREE STATIONS by Martin Cruz Smith: Book Review

As usual, there’s a lot going on in Moscow. And Russian police inspector Arkady Renko is, unwillingly, in the middle of it.

Three Stations is where three railroad stations meet.  It’s a terminal that has proved to be terminal for a young woman whose half-unclothed body is found in a trailer in the station.  The illegal wiring in the trailer is connected to the railway police station and then to the nearby militia station.  Is it any wonder that the police call this death a suicide and forbid Arkady Renko to investigate?

The only clue that Arkady finds in the trailer is a pass to a luxury fair currently going on in the city. Having officially been taken off the case and told to expect his termination notice shortly, he feels he has nothing to lose and so goes to the fair.  It’s sponsored by billionaire (or is that former billionaire?) Sasha Vaksberg, aka the “Prince of Darkness.”

The fair features various items up for auction:  a rifle that had belonged to a Romanov child for $75,000; an emerald necklace for $275,00; a ride to the International Space Station for $25 million. This is the new Russia, a millionaire’s playground.  The fair is supposed to be a charity event for the homeless children of Moscow, but does it have a more sinister purpose?

Shortly before the young woman’s body is discovered, a teenage girl runs off the train that has just arrived at Three Stations.  Maya, no last name or home town, is frantically looking for her baby, whom she says was stolen while she slept on the train, but the railway police don’t believe her story. She has no personal identification, no picture of the baby, no witnesses who might have seen the alleged abduction.

Zhenya Lysenko, an unofficial ward of Arkady’s, is in Three Stations hustling games of chess, as usual. Zhenya isn’t sure he believes Maya’s story about the baby, but he can see that she’s alone and frantic, and he wants to help her.  She refuses to go with him to see Arkady, or any other police official, so he smuggles her into the abandoned Peter the Great gambling casino that he uses as a base while they try to find the infant.

Martin Cruz Smith’s series follows the history of the Soviet Union/Russia as much as it follows Renko’s.  The state corruption and mismanagement are different, yet the same.  Now there are millionaires and even billionaires in Russia, but crime, drunkenness, and a desperate underclass are still here.  The promise of the communist government was unfulfilled; the same can be said for its replacement.

Three Stations is a look into a society with multiple problems.  Arkady Renko is one of the few officials who cares, but the corrupt bureaucracy is against him.  Despite his successes, or perhaps because of them, in each novel his future becomes more precarious.

You can read more about Martin Cruz Smith at his web site.

A WINDOW IN COPACABANA by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza: Book Review

Copacabana. The word brings up pictures of a beautiful beach, bikini-clad bodies, and Brazil’s national drink, the caipirinha.  So where do police corruption and murder fit into this picture?

Inspector Espinoza, chief of the 12th precinct in the city, has seen three policemen, one in his own precinct, killed within a few days.  Strangely enough, there doesn’t seem to be a big effort on the part of their fellow officers to find the killer or killers.  Espinoza decides to form a small task force with three of his subordinates to look into the deaths further, but they are stymied by the lack of cooperation they’re receiving.  It’s obvious there’s a coverup going on, but why?

More investigation turns up the fact that all three men were married but had mistresses.  Each lived a double life, one at home with his wife and children, the others without them in a nearly empty apartment.  Plus each of their mistresses had her own apartment.  What were they hiding?

Then two of the policemen’s mistresses are murdered. Across the street from the third mistress’s apartment, a woman named Serena sees what she thinks is a third murder.  She sees a woman directly opposite her window arguing with someone, a purse flying out the widow, almost immediately followed by the woman’s body.    She’s sees a police car and an ambulance at the scene a few minutes later, but when she questions the building’s doorman the next morning, he tells a different tale.  The woman was alone, there was no purse, and the woman threw herself out of the window.  Case closed.

Upset at the differences between what she thinks she saw and what the doorman tells her, Serena tells the story to her husband, a high official in the government, but he tells her it’s her imagination getting the best of her.   And even if it happened the way she tells it, it’s not her business.  If the police are satisfied, that’s the end of it.

But Serena isn’t satisfied, so she calls Inspector Espinoza to tell him her story. And that leads to even more complications.

The reader has been led to believe that it was the third mistress who went out the window.  But, in fact, it was not.   The third mistress, Celeste, in a later  interview with the police acknowledges that she and the other women knew their lovers were taking “tips,” or bribes, to supplement their salaries.  She doesn’t know the details, but since she’s the only one of the mistresses alive, she’s sure she’s next on the killer’s list.  Then she disappears.

Garcia-Roza paints a picture of a city with a culture of corruption. It’s easy for murders, even of policemen, to be only superficially investigated, and as for their mistresses, who really cares?  Perhaps it’s easy for Espinoza to get so involved with his police work since his personal life is rather empty.  Married and divorced, with a son who lives with his mother in the United States, he has a relationship with a woman that seems to go no further than a night of sex when it’s convenient for both of them.   He’s a man who’s cold inside.

You can read more about Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza at this web site.