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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.