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LIGHTS OUT SUMMER
by Rich Zahradnik
Camel Press, October 2017
288 pages
$15.95
ISBN: 160381213X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Police reporter Taylor Coleridge returns to the New York City crime scene in March 1977 in the middle of the sudden recognition that a serial killer self-named Son of Sam is and has been preying on young women out at night on lover's lanes with their boyfriends. All of the major city newspapers go into a feeding frenzy publishing anything they can ferret out or, in some cases, make up about the horrific crimes. The police cancel all leaves and bring in outside reinforcements to concentrate almost solely on finding and stopping this one person. Taylor's role as a crime journalist for a small and local news wire service simply gives him no scope for competing with big time newspaper reporters so he satisfies his editor with what little new information he can gather. He mainly concentrates on what he has always done best: digging out stories about other murders happening at the same time whose victims are not so newsworthy and whose cases can turn into dead ends for the police. Taylor's goal is to honor those victims by finding people who know about them and writing up what they tell him so that these dead are not just lost or ignored. Sometimes he is also able to find a trail back to their killers.

What catches his attention and his imagination this time out is the senseless death of a young black woman named Martha Gibson, shot in the back after putting her trash in the chute in the sixth floor hallway of her apartment building. She was unable to identify who shot her to the attendant in the ambulance and she died before getting to the hospital. The police have little to offer other than that the murderer must have come out of the stairwell after she turned to go back to her apartment and gunned her down. There was no robbery and no apparent motive.

When Taylor calls at Martha's apartment he meets her sister, a drug addict that Martha has taken in to try to help. The sister looks enough like Martha that he wonders if a bad drug connection killed Martha by mistake. He learns that she was the first in her family to graduate from college, fired from her last job for refusing the sexual advances of her boss and refused references for finding another job, and finally reduced to working as a maid in an extremely wealthy household where, she told her sister, there might be some strange secrets and that someone might think she had overheard something she shouldn't have.

Taylor finds that the patriarch of the wealthy family is quite interesting and welcoming but that the other members of the household are prickly or distant or both. A coworker there hints that she could give him more information but she is afraid of losing her job. As he tries to follow all of the thin leads he has, he and his girlfriend, a former police officer and now private investigator, are caught up in the July 13-14 blackout which sets off widespread rioting, vandalism, and looting across the city. She stays with a small business owner to help protect him and Taylor heads out to learn more about the neither very private nor legal doings of the wealthy family's oldest son and heir not a very safe choice of nighttime activity in the world of high gambling, women, and mob enforcers.

Taylor Coleridge is a protagonist who is well conceived and very, very well developed. Rich Zahradnik was himself a longtime and well-respected newsman and his knowledge, experience, and love of journalism pour through Taylor. It appears to me that this series is growing in focus and strength the episodes are getting better and better. It's enough of a niche that I am on a learning curve but Taylor's self-governance and motivation are kept clear and I don't feel out of my depth. Good reading.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, October 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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