After his stunning debut with Pipe Dream (2000)—a harrowing novel about the inner city’s lost souls—Jones tries hard again but falls short.
The East Bridge Housing Project in Philadelphia (the “Bridge”) consists of broken windows, filthy hallways, neglected services, and defaced everything: all the ugly, emblematic signs of urban blight. Just as depressing, and as pervasive, however, is the smell. To a frightened nine-year-old named Kenya Brown, “It smelled like death.” And then suddenly Kenya is gone, vanished, and even in the Bridge—where drugs have all but destroyed empathy—the news manages to shock. It does more than that to Detective Kevin Lynch. Because he knew Kenya and knows Daneen, her mother, even better, the girl’s disappearance draws him back into a world he thought he had forever left behind him. Childhood playmates, Daneen and Kevin might have one day become lovers if it hadn’t been for the intervention of an implacable grandmother. Ambitious on Kevin’s behalf, the ferocious old lady had been quick to recognize beautiful, blossoming Daneen for what she was: a honey trap. Measures were taken—swift and Draconian—and as a result, the young people followed sharply divergent paths. Kevin’s led to a university education and eventual liberation, while Daneen, raped and a mother at 17, found crack-cocaine. Now, the predawn phone call from Daneen pleading for his help plunges Kevin into a dangerous double investigation: first is the search for himself—an unexpected collision with long-hidden issues of identity and unresolved guilt; and second is the search for Kenya—and confrontation with a certain bleak and embittering question: Who would want to harm a lovely, still-innocent child? In the Bridge, it turns out, the answer is: almost everyone.
As passionately unsparing as before in its portrayal of a subculture in despair, but Jones’s second ultimately disappoints, undercut by soap-opera plotting and a curiously lifeless cast.