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by Mark Arsenault
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2003
318 pages
ISBN: 1590580591

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

While he dreams of writing for The Boston Globe or The New York Times, reporter Eddie Bourque slogs away as a political reporter at The Lowell (Massachusetts) Empire. His political beat colleague, Danny Nowlin, disappears and is found, head based in, in Worthen Creek. It soon becomes clear that Danny was investigating the Cambodian community in Lowell (a large segment of the immigrant population), as well as an attempt to "sell" the neighborhood called "The Acre," home to many poor immigrants, to developers.

The first coverup Eddie encounters is an effort to pass Danny's death off an an accident. Soon after Danny's death, Eddie is bludgeoned near the spot where Danny's body was found. He is rescued by two homeless heroin addicts, who take him to their shelter under a bridge.

The couple, Leo and Gabrielle, are both poignant and charming. They are not typical heroin addicts. Before he became addicted, Leo was a graduate student in philosophy. What impresses Eddie most is how their love has lasted in this dreadful environment.

Eddie pitches two story ideas to his editor. When he suggests the Leo and Gabrielle story, his editor says that he is trying to glorify drug dealers. When he suggests a story on the Cambodian community, his editor says that immigrants don't buy papers and don't advertise. Eddie soon learns that the paper is complicit in endorsing candidates for city council who support the development that would displace the Cambodian immigrants and ignoring candidates who oppose it.

Eddie's refusal to accept the cover up of Danny's murder leads him deep into the Cambodian community in Lowell, particularly to a young woman bent on avenging her father's death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and to a Cambodian philanthropist who is not all that he seems.

Eddie is a strong character, dealing with the pain of his wife's departure and his coworker's death. Sometimes, however, he exhibits superhuman strength in bouncing back from injuries that would have sidelined most people for weeks.

The secondary characters are an interesting crew, especially the city councilman who has only a passing acquaintance with the English language and its idioms. He tells Eddie, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the frying pan." There is the copy editor who tries to trip up Eddie with quotes from old movies, and the computer whiz who longs to be a stand up comedian and promises to help Eddie with his computer problems if Eddie will make him funny.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, June 2003

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