S. J. Rozan has a mantle full of literary awards, most of them
acquired as the result of her novels featuring Bill Smith and Lydia
Chin. She has been taking a break from this series of late, and if
her fans are understandably disappointed that this newest work is
not a Smith/Chin title, they should not be downtrodden.
IN THIS RAIN, while another stand-alone book for Rozan,
interestingly introduces another couple who easily could form the
basis for a second ongoing series. Joe Cole is a former New York
City building department inspector who found himself at the center
of a major scandal involving Manhattan's construction industry,
which resulted in the death of a child. Ironically enough, Cole was
innocent of the charge of which he was convicted and imprisoned for
three years. His culpability in a related matter, more an error of
omission than an actionable offense, continues to weigh on him.
Cole, newly released from prison, is content to live out his days
doing mindless roadwork by day and carefully gardening the area
around his rural cottage by night.
Cole's quiet, if not necessarily idyllic, existence is shattered by
a series of apparent accidents, one of which is fatal (surrounding
Mott Haven, a Manhattan building project). Ann Montgomery, Cole's
former Building Department partner, suspects that the incidents are
not accidents at all, but works of sabotage carried out by Walter
Glybenhall, a major Manhattan developer for whom Mott Haven is but
his latest project. Montgomery initially suspects that Glybenhall
is using the occurrences as a catalyst for an insurance fraud
scheme. He must tread carefully, as Glybenhall's influence extends
right into the office of the mayor of New York. Montgomery quietly
enlists Cole as an unofficial advisor, and his methodical if
enigmatic investigation soon establishes --- at least to
Montgomery's satisfaction --- that Mott Haven's difficulties are
not the result of happenstance.
It soon appears, however, that Glybenhall's interests go beyond
Manhattan and into Harlem, where he apparently covets the last
undeveloped piece of land in the neighborhood for a gentrified
condominium and entertainment project that he feels will make him
the premier developer of New York City. The land, incidentally, is
also coveted by a group of local activists who see it as being
better utilized as affordable community housing rather than as a
theme entertainment center. When a series of apparently unrelated
murders occur, one of which strikes close to Montgomery, it slowly
becomes clear that the trail of deceit extends far beyond the
parameters Montgomery originally suspected.
Matters are complicated when the evidence, which initially seemed
to lead directly to Glybenhall, unexpectedly exonerates him.
Montgomery is certain of Glybenhall's complicity, yet her
investigation appears to be biased due to her family's unfortunate
history with the man. Undaunted, she takes a calculated risk that
will either reveal the extent of the duplicity and the identities
of those involved in the plot, or put her career and possibly her
life in terrible danger.
The plot of IN THIS RAIN is a complex one, as would befit the
various elements --- construction, architecture and New York City
politics --- that comprise the main plot. But Rozan knows her
territory well and her narrative is surefooted and appropriately
world-weary. As with Rozan's other works, however, the unrelenting
grimness of her storyline is interwoven with unrelated, disparate
elements that by turns subtly educate the reader and stir the pot
without disturbance or distraction from the main plot thread.
Cole's gardening hobby/therapy provides not only a quiet
counterpoint to the intrigue that dips and swirls through the novel
but also serves as an unexpected backdrop for one of the multiple
climaxes that brings Rozan's story to an explosive conclusion. A
couple of other elements --- the science of architecture, New
York's diamond district --- also provide additional and fascinating
elements to a tale well worth reading.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 11, 2011