A put-upon prosecutor investigates a racially charged murder in this spicy legal drama.
It seems like an open-and-shut case when a Hasidic Jewish man is stabbed to death on a Brooklyn street, and his alleged assailant, identified by three witnesses, is caught minutes later by the Hasidic Shomrim foot patrol. It’s 1991, the Crown Heights crime scene is a powder keg of ethnic tension, and the perp is a Puerto Rican man. The Hasidim want a quick conviction, while the Hispanic community cries racial profiling. Assistant district attorney Carmen Rodriguez–used to being on the receiving end of bigoted presumptions–finds herself navigating a political minefield. Then the witnesses turn out to be unreliable (one, a Talmudic scholar, seems to be possessed by the spirit of a dead crack whore), an alibi surfaces for the defendant, a diamond is mysteriously stolen from the dead man’s safe and Carmen wonders whether she’s prosecuting the right man. Alas, her commitment to justice often clashes with her instinct for self-preservation. Carmen’s boss, eager to placate the politically powerful Hasidim, insists that she sweep the case’s untidy details under the rug, while cagey defense counsel Pai Ho Wu threatens to publicize Carmen’s porno pics from her student days unless she reveals prosecution secrets. Out of Carmen’s travails the authors craft a crime procedural that’s lively, if sometimes lacking in finesse. They ladle out rather a lot of ethnic shtick in depicting Brooklyn’s culture wars and complicate third-act problems by unaccountably sidelining their heroine for most of the trial scenes, which are handily stolen by the riveting Wu before fizzling out. Fortunately, they stock the story with sharply drawn characters (the eternally kvetching but tough-as-nails presiding judge is a hoot), cannily observed procedural and intriguing courtroom twists that will keep readers guessing.
An engrossing tale about the difficulty of discerning justice through the murk of New York’s melting pot.