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CONVICTION
by Julia Dahl
Minotaur, March 2017
320 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250083699


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There was a time when the first association with the word Brooklyn was a long subway ride to nowhere in particular. Those days are over and Brooklyn today is known as the land of the hipster or the aspiring millennial (cue: Girls). This may be the Brooklyn in which Julia Dahl lives, but her heart is in a somewhat older sort of Brooklyn - Crown Heights - where Orthodox Jews of various persuasions have come into often jittery contact with their black neighbours. Her latest foray into the neighbourhood is largely set during some of Crown Heights worst days, the early nineties, the time of the Crown Heights riot.

This is, of course, a Rebekah Roberts novel and the freelance journalist for the fictional Trib (read Post ) has volunteered to read some of the letters from prisoners to a blogger on crime proclaiming their innocence. Many of them come from the nineties, from young men who were convicted of murder at a time when fear was rampant in New York, the murder rate was through the roof, and the pressure was on the DA's office to prosecute and convict the killers. One of these letter catches Rebekah's attention because the arresting officer was someone she knows well, Saul Katz.

The story DeShawn Perkins has to tell could have been drawn directly from ANATOMY OF INNOCENCE . As a teenager some thirty years ago, he was convicted of murdering his foster parents and baby sister largely on the evidence of a coerced confession. He has been in jail ever since, refused parole because he will not admit to his guilt.

What CONVICTION does is something ANATOMY cannot - provide the complex nexus of factors that underlay DeShawn's conviction. The riot that followed the death of a Guyanese child when struck by a car in the motorcade accompanying the famous Hasidic rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the beginnings of gentrification, the condition of slum housing, and the isolation of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community were all at play in DeShawn's fate.

The bulk of the narrative is third person description of what happened in 1992. But Rebekah has her part as well, and the tough, snarky, yet fundamentally decent journalist with both conscience and soul provides a contemporary perspective on a troubled period along with a recognition that if attention is not paid, the past will become present in the blink of an eye.

CONVICTION is well plotted, surprising, and convincing. But most of all it engages both the mind and the heart in a way that makes it particularly relevant to the atmosphere of the moment.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, May 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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