Review

Absent Friends

by S.J. Rozan

S.J.
Rozan is best known as a mystery writer, having garnered just about
every award possible for her traditional mystery series featuring
the unlikely P.I. team of Bill Smith and Lydia Chin. ABSENT FRIENDS
is not part of this series but is instead a stand-alone book, in
every sense of the word. It is funny, tender, romantic, sad,
hopeful and tragic, often within the same paragraph. It goes beyond
the premise of great literature, that good people can do bad things
and bad people can do good; rather, it explores that area where
good works, no matter how nobly or well-intended, result in
tragedy. It is also one of the best books from any genre that I
have read this year.

James McCaffery, the protagonist of ABSENT FRIENDS, is dead as the
novel commences. Jim is one of New York City's bravest, a fire
captain who loses his life during a rescue mission in the aftermath
of the terrorist attacks upon the Twin Towers on September 11,
2001. He is initially spotlighted in a newspaper article as a hero,
one whose motto was "first in, last out" and who lived that motto
right up until the moment when he drew his last breath.

Harry Randall, a reporter whose best stories are years behind him,
stumbles across a lead that causes him to believe that McCaffery
may have been involved in a criminal enterprise with a known
mobster, a man he had known since childhood. The story, implausible
as it seems to the shell-shocked citizenry, is given a bizarre
credence when Randall is found dead, the victim of an apparent but
suspicious suicide.

The story is picked up by Laura Stone, Randall's protégé
and lover, who is determined to not only unravel the mystery of
Randall's sudden death, but also to finish the story he was working
on. Rozan tells the story from several viewpoints, moving back and
forth in time as she describes McCaffery and the circle of friends
he had kept since childhood, friends whom he had loved and
protected in life and who attempt in turn to protect him in
death.

Rozan is perfect here, creating an atmosphere of foreboding, of
doom, almost from the first sentence, even though it begins with an
account of childhood joy and discovery. The atmospheric tension is
sustained throughout and is so strong that one is almost afraid to
turn the page, to discover what is to be revealed. That it will end
badly is a foregone conclusion, if subtlety so; the only question
is one of degree.

ABSENT FRIENDS is one of those rare novels that transcends the
limitations of a genre and stands on its own as a novel for the
ages. This is a story that, once read, will not be forgotten.
Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 25, 2011

Absent Friends
by S.J. Rozan

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • ISBN-10: 0385338031
  • ISBN-13: 9780385338035