Today I'm blogging about Lights Out Summer by Rich Zahradnick which I received free of charge as a review copy through publicist Wiley Saichek. It's the 4th in a series of mysteries in which the protagonist is a reporter. I have not read the previous three books, but I never felt that I was missing anything important. So I think that it's possible to read Lights Out Summer first.
I liked the idea of going back to my home town, New York City, through the pages of a mystery. NYC is vast and diverse. Even native New Yorkers can't be expected to be equally conversant with every single neighborhood in the five boroughs of this great city. I generally give Zahradnik high marks for authenticity. There is one exception. His brief mention of Inwood led me to suspect that he'd only ever been to its park. In the 1970's, which is when Lights Out Summer took place, Inwood was an urban neighborhood. It had streets lined with apartment buildings and stores. It was accessible by subway. I knew it very well. That's why I mentioned it even though Inwood doesn't really play a role in the plot. I admit to nitpicking here.
Since I was there in 1977 I can confirm that at the time, the overwhelming majority of column inches in NYC newspapers devoted to local crime did seem to be covering the Son of Sam murders. Zahradnik's hero took the road less traveled because he wanted to do some original reporting. He decided to cover the murder of an African American woman which had received a very perfunctory police investigation. Since he met with a great deal of discouragement, I thought that he should be congratulated for sticking with that case until it was resolved.
Although I've seen journalists playing the role of detective before, I haven't always been impressed with them. I've reviewed books in the Rebekah Roberts mystery series by Julia Dahl which also has a reporter protagonist. So I'd like to make a distinction between these two central characters. Zahradnick's Taylor is competent and well-suited to crime reporting unlike Julia Dahl's Rebekah. For my criticisms of Rebekah's competence as a journalist see my review of the first novel in her series here. For my remarks about her suitability for crime reporting see my review of the second novel in the Rebekah Roberts series here. Taylor, on the other hand, was secure enough in the criminal investigation environment for me to categorize this novel as a procedural, but it's a journalist procedural rather than a police procedural.
In addition to being good at his job, Taylor also has martial arts skills. This is not a martial arts novel, but it contained realistic fight scenes which enhanced my appreciation of the book.
Of the three books that I have reviewed for Wiley Saichek this year, I enjoyed Lights Out Summer the most. It contained a number of sympathetic and credible characters along with the well-paced suspense of the narrative. I'm glad I didn't miss it, and I would be inclined to read other books by Zahradnik.