THE LIGHTNING RULE by Brett Ellen Block


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Detective Martin Emmett investigates a gruesome murder that hints at something even more sinister.

It’s the summer of 1967 in Newark, N.J. The temperature is rising in the predominantly black Central Ward as racial tensions worsen. While riots rage on the streets outside his station, Emmett struggles to do his job surrounded by corruption and indifference. A black teenage boy involved in a mob-controlled stolen-car ring turns up dead in the subway. Dumped on the tracks to be mangled, his body is missing a finger. In this racially charged environment, Emmett is pressured to solve the case quickly. He comes across another corpse similarly mutilated; then another boy disappears. As the situation in the city reaches a fever pitch, Emmett finds himself face to face with a completely different sort of madman. Drue Heinz Literary Prize–winner Block (The Grave of God’s Daughter, 2004, etc.) indulges here in a fair amount of melodrama. Emmett serves as caretaker for his paralyzed war-veteran brother, and his home environment can be as psychologically grueling as the precinct. Yet she also reveals her complex protagonist’s strength of character in subtle ways. Emmett takes pride in the quality of his work, not in the uniform or the authority that comes with the job. Stymied by reluctant witnesses, he bails out an associate of the dead boy, offering the con a chance at redemption in exchange for help with the case. Together they follow leads, dodge angry mobs and mobsters and trail the killer deep underneath the city. Martin Emmett is hardly the first stubborn detective in fiction, but Block does a superb job of giving him flesh and bone in a gritty, historically rich narrative. Another appearance would be welcome.

Many cuts above the typical police procedural.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-052506-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2006


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