“They eat their own in this zip code.”
Ex-cop and current middle-school dean Raymond Donne finds himself caught up in the mystery of a former student’s tragic death in a fast-paced novel that moves from an underserved neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the hallowed halls of private academia in Manhattan. Douglas Lee is discovered under a bridge near locked tennis courts, his body stabbed multiple times. Attending the funeral, Raymond Donne feels great empathy for the boy’s mother, confused as well that this young man’s killing should be deemed a gang-related death. Mrs. Lee is adamant that her boy had no involvement with drugs or gangs, but his murder is all too easy to ascribe to the usual inner-city blights.
Examining Douglas Lee’s room with his mother, Donne becomes suspicious that there is more to the tragedy and agrees to help Mrs. Lee keep the story alive by doing an interview with reporter Allison Rogers. Meeting Rogers the next day at the crime scene to compare notes, Raymond is uncomfortable when the detective assigned to the case also arrives at the scene. Dennis Murcer is not only familiar from his work on the force (before the accident that left Donne without a law enforcement career), but the two men have a unique personal history that injects a bit of acrimony into their conversation. Murcer takes pains to remind Donne to stay out of the investigation, fully aware of Raymond’s penchant for independent sleuthing when his curiosity is piqued—not to mention that Donne’s uncle holds a prominent position in the department and shares the same name. His uncle will not appreciate any excess notoriety caused by a nephew who made the choice to change careers.
The theme here is clear: Raymond has the instincts of a cop, even though he no longer carries a shield. No doubt he will intrude into the investigation, albeit unintentionally, creating public relations problems for his uncle and complications for Detective Murcer. Mrs. Lee is very persuasive, calling regularly on Raymond to pursue one unresolved issue after another. What begins as a good deed mushrooms into a convoluted mystery far beyond the boundaries of Williamsburg, reaching into the Manhattan campus where Dougie had received a scholarship and made a few new friends among his wealthy classmates. When another classmate dies, Raymond is compelled to follow his instincts before any more lives are lost. It doesn’t hurt that Allison and Raymond have formed a mutual attraction, her resources benefitting them both.
O’Mara keeps his novel tight and on point, with a cast of characters that define both the socioeconomic divides of their daily lives and the opportunities afforded those of financial means, including the ability to maintain privacy in personal affairs. Raymond’s personality dominates, whether counseling troubled students in his capacity as dean, meeting with an intimidating gang leader to broker peace, avoiding a conflict with Dougie’s powerful attorney/ uncle or his own uncle on the force, sharing ideas with a tech geek at his favorite cop bar, or learning how to balance a relationship with a busy career woman. O’Mara handles it all, from inner-city streets to Central Park meets, with the surety of a natural storyteller. No doubt Raymond Donne will return with more adventures. I’m looking forward to them.