A highly unlikely detective pursues the even more unlikely trail of a missing man during Holy Week in Brooklyn.
Colette Rennet’s brother Jean-Baptist is missing—he stopped attending classes at the Brooklyn Art Institute soon after matriculating—and she doesn’t know where he’s gone. So she wanders into The Notch, a bar whose owner is universally known as the Captain, and asks Caesar Stiles, the bartender, to find him. Caesar has no experience as a detective, but his experience with crime is intimate and extensive. His grandmother emigrated from Sicily specifically to kill the man who’d traveled to America to escape her; his beloved brother Angie was struck and killed by a train during a fist fight that had migrated to the tracks; and his fearsome brother Sallie is doing time for maiming the man who nearly killed him in another fight. Caesar duly asks questions of Professor Reginald Hamersley, Jean-Baptist’s art teacher; his landlady, liquor-store owner Lillian Pettaway; his neighborhood real-estate mogul Will Page, who buys buildings and flips them; and his own friend Don Brown, a one-man construction crew. But any sense of forward motion is undercut by a torrent of anecdotal memories that pull Caesar back to his travels across the U.S., the women he’s loved, the men he’s fought and his troubled family history. Long before Easter Sunday dawns, present and past will have merged in a definite enough resolution but no clear sense of arriving at a destination.
First-time novelist Cotto’s shaggy, dreamlike saga begins with a curse and ends with a redemption of sorts. What’s in between is a lot less clear.