A kindhearted Manhattan tech worker has visions of a boy’s mysterious disappearance in this paranormal thriller.
Bruce Spencer, a single, 27-year-old information technology specialist and a good son to his doting parents, is experiencing all-consuming visions. He calls them “block-outs” and they show him intense, vivid moments of another person’s life, from their perspective; he’s had them since he was a child. He’s kept his visions a secret for years—even from his best friend, Duke. The latest series of block-outs are increasingly worrisome, however, making him question his own sanity. It turns out that they’re the experiences of a young biracial boy named Nicholas “Chickenneck” Anderson, who was murdered in 1966, and the boy’s beloved Aunt Tracy. Debut author Ortiz effectively fortifies the plot with Nicholas’ expansive backstory, including his premature birth, his mother’s subsequent death, and his father’s anger and lingering resentment; later, the author poignantly shows how the boy’s aunt raised him single-handedly. It all leads to the harrowing predicament that resulted in Nicholas’ violent demise. Bruce believes that maybe the block-outs will end if he can solve the boy’s murder, so he begins helping local authorities to investigate the long-ago crime. During the course of the novel, Bruce also reconnects with a long-lost love interest, Isabel Carbone, who has a tumultuous backstory of her own. Ortiz, a poet and native New Yorker, draws on memories of her own childhood to fashion this story. The mystery is a relatively straightforward one, and there’s nothing particularly jarring, offensive, or grisly in the narrative. However, there’s plenty of mounting suspense, which will make it ideal for fans of brisk, readable whodunits. The author relies on the fine-tuned development of her central characters to guide readers to a satisfying conclusion. The end leaves open the possibility of future installments.
A smoothly effective mystery debut that delivers vivid characterization and clever plotting.