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PROVING GROUND
by Peter Blauner
Minotaur, May 2017
356 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250117445


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Peter Blauner is not your typical book-a-year author. We've had to wait more than a decade since the Edgar award winner's previous novel, SLIPPING INTO DARKNESS. That stingy schedule is not the only thing he has in common with Richard Price. Like Price, he has a bone-deep feel for New York's neighborhoods, a talent for making his characters fully alive, and the gift of turning descriptions into moments of found poetry on nearly every page. He's pretty handy with plot, too.

In this case, the story revolves around the murder of a civil liberties lawyer who has brought suit against an FBI agent who sent an innocent Muslim American to a dark site overseas for years of brutal interrogation. The lawyer's son Nathaniel has earned a law degree but has stubbornly refused to follow in his father's footsteps; he became a prosecutor instead of a defense attorney. He also joined the army to fight a war his parents opposed and came home from Iraq with a full-blown case of PTSD and a body covered in tattoos including one that says "everywhere is war."

Yet after the murder he teams up with his father's partner, who wants him to help bring the case to the courtroom. Natty can hardly say no. He grew up with Benjamin Grimaldi, who taught him to box and provided a father figure in some ways more influential than his own dad. Besides, if the FBI had any role in the murder, he wants the truth to come out if only for his mother's sake. She's a life-long activist in her own right who has no love for the FBI. She's also suspicious of the NYPD, given her husband was famous for winning cases against them.

In addition to Natty and his circle, we get closely acquainted with the detectives assigned to investigate the lawyer's murder. Lourdes Robles is trying to get back on her career track after a setback and has been partnered with an aging legend on the verge of retirement. It's important that she figures out how to make this partnership work, how to run an interrogation effectively with a zen-like master who's coming to the end of his career just as she's hoping to restart hers. Watching her gingerly feel her way into the case and regain her confidence is nearly as gripping as the moment when Natty and Grimaldi confront the FBI in court. Though the Muslim defendant is clearly innocent, there's nothing simple about the murder of his lawyer. When Lourdes and her partner see a pattern taking shape, their investigation leads them into a direction that makes everything far more complicated. The complex story is framed by a prologue and a final chapter that force us to think about the meaning of that tattoo.

Blauner, who has spent recent years writing for television, has plenty of hackneyed material to work with. A Latina woman trying to prove herself in a man's world and trying not to worry about her weight (page one of chapter one); an Iraq veteran who's always on a hair-trigger, ready to explode into violence (page one of chapter two). It could go horribly wrong, but it doesn't because Blauner is a terrific novelist and PROVING GROUND is proof of it. Is it selfish to ask him to turn off the TV and write nothing but novels in future? We don't want to wait another ten years for a book as elegantly written and engrossing as this one.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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