A young woman’s mysterious murder forces a troubled detective to come to terms with his past.
No one can figure out who killed Greta Broz. She was discovered dead in her Long Island apartment from a gunshot wound. The problem? There’s no bullet to be found. That’s not the only confounding thing about the young Hungarian immigrant’s death that Detective William Hael discovers as he investigates the crime. The victim was mild-mannered and had no enemies. But as Hael digs deeper, disturbing truths about Greta’s past surface. Her father was an alcoholic imprisoned for murder, and her uncle sexually abused her. Hael’s own father was an abusive alcoholic and the case stirs up unpleasant memories and emotions, which express themselves in a series of dreams starring baseball legend Babe Ruth. Then Greta starts appearing with Ruth in the dreams (“Could the Babe, in holding Greta’s hand, simply be saying the two of them were connected? And if they were connected, what was the tie that bound them? Was it their father’s drinking?”). The Great Bambino seems to be trying to tell the detective something important, but Hael may not get the message before the killer strikes again. This debut novel is half hard-boiled mystery, half psychological study of the lasting damage and pain caused by abusive, addicted parents. That’s not surprising given that the author is a licensed psychologist who has worked with those affected by drug and alcohol abuse, and he draws on his professional knowledge to explain how children of alcoholics learn to cope. This information, while enlightening, is occasionally a bit didactic; some passages read like excerpts from a Psych 101 textbook. The detective’s obsession with Ruth and the related dreams are an inventive way to explore the character’s psyche, but sometimes disrupt the narrative’s flow, as the action pauses while Hael recounts another strange vision. Some readers may wish the narrator spent less time dozing and more time detecting. The book’s core mystery is clever and engaging, complete with effective red herrings, colorful cops, reliably sketchy informants, and dynamic action sequences. The case wraps itself up in a satisfying way, but the resolution to Hael’s troubles with his father is a bit too pat, especially because dad only appears in person in the final pages.
A deft thriller with an important
message about the lasting damage of alcohol abuse.