BROOKLYN BONES (An Erica Donato mystery)
By Triss Stein
Crime fiction (traditional mystery)
Poisoned Pen Press
Erica Donato is making a life for herself and her daughter, going to grad school, working part-time in a museum and renovating their Park Slope home. She misses her husband, who died too young, but she treasures her friends and family. What was a quiet life is shattered when the renovaters, including her daughter, discover the bones of a teenage girl, cradling a teddy bear, hidden in a wall of the house.
Soon, Erica and her teenage daughter, Chris, are encountering strangers threatening them in the street and on the phone. Retired cop Rick Malone, friend of Erica's father, has been a surrogate parent to both of them, but now he's not answering phone messages.
Meanwhile, Erica's friend introduces her to dashing and rich Steven Richmond, who offers her consulting work. He represents developers who want to be highly regarded when they change the neighborhood. Erica is not certain how her historian credentials work into this, but as a grad student and single mother welcomes the extra money to look up material about where she lives. The search is also to try to find out about the early 1970s, when that girl's remains were walled up inside Erica's home.
To help with the historical record, Erica befriends a crochety retired newspaper reporter who broke stories about the gentrification of part of Brooklyn. Leary's old clippings and notes of the days when runaways crashed in Park Slope homes and landlords wanted them out are interesting not just to Erica the historian and homeowner where a skeleton was found, they also attract the attention of those who may not want the past brought to light.
Stein does well in setting up both the main characters -- Erica and her daughter, their friend Joe, the contractor who is renovating the house, and other characters -- and the whodunit. There are times when the story threatens to veer into romance rather than mystery, but it's intentional for both the plot and for the character development of Erica the young widow. The groundwork laid in this novel should provide a sturdy foundation to further books in the series.
One area in which Stein particular excels is in bringing Erica's Brooklyn neighborhood to life. Readers see what it was like back in the day, as well as the vibrant district it is now. Families have roots of several generations or as newcomers make a block their own. The interactions play a key role in solving the mystery of the skeletal remains, but also show what makes Brooklyn a special place to the author and her main character.
©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission