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Proving Ground

Review

Proving Ground

Peter Blauner needs no introduction, but I’m going to give him one anyway. Readers of thrillers and mysteries haven’t forgotten him (who could forget the author of such fictional works as SLOW MOTION RIOT and THE LAST GOOD DAY?), but almost certainly will have missed him, given that PROVING GROUND is his first novel in more than 10 years. He hasn’t been idle or absent, though. You have seen his work in another medium, given that he has been writing for “Law & Order: SVU” and is currently the co-executive producer of “Blue Bloods,” which was recently renewed for an eighth season. I don’t know when Blauner found the time to write this book, but I’m glad he did. It’s a winner.

The present tense narrative of PROVING GROUND alternates between Nathaniel “Natty Dread” Dresden and NYPD Detective Lourdes “LRo” Robles, with the darker and dirtier corners of New York functioning as an ever-present backdrop. While both characters are multidimensional and interesting, it is Natty who is the more complicated of the two. He wasn’t raised by Ward and June Cleaver. His mother Alice was/is a steel-girded social activist, while his father, David, is a world-renowned/notorious (depending on your worldview) defense attorney who built a reputation for championing the underdog, including some of the country’s worst criminals, political and otherwise. Such individuals are entitled to the best defense possible when accused of crimes, and David was there to provide it, right up to the point when he is murdered, execution-style.

"There are a host of corkscrew twists, particularly midway through, at which point [Blauner] throws a flash grenade into the story closet that leaves the reader surprised and off-kilter for the balance of the novel."

The police, including LRo, do not lack for suspects; David, like JFK, had ticked so many people off at the time of his death that it’s easier to eliminate who could not have murdered him than who could have. The list of “coulds” includes everyone from the FBI, who David was suing on behalf of a wrongly accused client, to (however briefly) Natty, interestingly enough. Natty rebelled against his parents, first by enlisting in the Army and volunteering for combat duty in Iraq, and later by --- oh, the humanity! --- becoming a prosecuting attorney in Florida. Following his father’s death, Natty is coerced, however reluctantly, into joining Benjamin Grimaldi, his father’s longtime law partner and family friend, in completing the civil action against the FBI that David originally filed.

Natty is full of his own demons, none of which are close to being exorcised, and what he discovers as he attempts to resolve his own legal problems while aiding Ben in an upcoming summary judgment hearing only aggravates things further for him. Indeed, Natty has brought the war home with him, and he is ready to surrender to it, between the frequent flashbacks he experiences and the substance abuse that he seems only half-interested in dealing with. Worse, a meeting with an old acquaintance of his father opens a Pandora’s box that sets him spinning out of control, and unpredictably so, right up to the point of the book’s somewhat abrupt and not entirely neat ending.

Blauner, a decade between novels notwithstanding, never disappoints in PROVING GROUND. There are a host of corkscrew twists, particularly midway through, at which point he throws a flash grenade into the story closet that leaves the reader surprised and off-kilter for the balance of the novel. There is also a comic book metaphor that he hints at initially, and when he delivers...well, it’s worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s nice to see Blauner back with such a worthy book, even if he never really went away.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 5, 2017

Proving Ground
by Peter Blauner

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250117445
  • ISBN-13: 9781250117441