The second novel in Van Soest’s (At The Center, 2015, etc.) Sylvia Jensen Mystery Series reunites the recently former social worker with Native American investigative reporter J.B. Harrell, setting them on a quest to uncover the truth about the disappearance of a young boy in the Bronx almost four decades ago.
It’s 2006, and Sylvia and J.B. stop at a coffee shop after a rally at Monrow City Hall. The Midwestern city is considering turning over their public education system to the CSCH corporation, a for-profit company that runs charter schools around the country. Browsing through the New York Times, Sylvia learns of the discovery of the remains of a young boy in the debris of demolished Bronx public school P.S. 457. CSCH is planning to build a charter school on the site. Sylvia taught at that school for two years, and during the long teachers strike of 1968, one of her third-grade students, Markus LeMeur, went missing. In her mid-20s, Sylvia and her then-husband, Frank Waters, had moved from the Midwest to the Bronx. Idealistic and enthusiastic, she developed a special relationship with Markus and his older sister, Mentayer. Now she is convinced the body is that of little Markus, and she thinks she knows who killed him. She and J.B. fly east, he to investigate CSCH charter schools, she to get justice for Markus. Sylvia narrates the story, which is a combination of the duo’s present-day probes into Markus’ death and possible corruption in CSCH and Sylvia’s painful confrontation with the past, a time during which she began asserting her emerging feminism and her marriage was beginning to crumble. Van Soest is a skilled writer, equally adept with dialogue and narrative. She smoothly alternates the settings between 1967-68 and 2006, letting the past gradually unfold to meet the present. And Sylvia is a passionate, albeit sometimes overwrought, protagonist. The author vividly re-creates a tumultuous slice of history, although the anti-union slant is a less-than-evenhanded presentation of the issues.
A solid, engaging mystery with a timely plot.