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UNHOLY CITY
by Carrie Smith
Crooked Lane Books, November 2017
$27.99
ISBN: 1683313291


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

UNHOLY CITY was a book that this reviewer wanted to like: a police procedural set in New York City, with an appealing lead: Detective Claire Codella, a hard-working homicide detective who is recovering from cancer treatment. She is romantically involved with another detective, Brian Haggerty, her former partner who may or may not have issues with the fact that she outranks him. Haggerty is stationed at a "regular" precinct, and is not part of the elite homicide squad that has captured Codella's loyalty. Her boss seems to be out to get her, as he does not support women detectives. The sexual harassment that Codella faces could come straight from today's headlines.

The plotline too has some intriguing elements: the crime itself - the killing of a church committee member in the herb garden; the church where the crime is set that provides the author with a clever device to introduce some elements of New York City history, and a plethora of suspects with secrets both large and small. Whodunit? The vestry members are a complicated bunch. Was it Anna the minister stuck in an unhappy marriage, with fantasies about the murder victim? Or could it be her husband, a thoroughly unlikable character who seems to have nothing in common with his spiritual wife? Then there is Susan, a successful physician what is the secret that she is so ashamed of? What about Roger, a successful yet somewhat mysterious figure who behaves very suspiciously? Rose, a sad young widow with an asthmatic daughter, who discovers the body? Or Peter, the obnoxious lawyer?

As the bodies pile up and we learn more about the characters, they all seem like a shady bunch.

The most likable characters that we end up rooting for are the police officers: Codella herself who is trying to juggle her inner demons as the daughter of a murderer with a passion for getting justice for crime victims as well as maintaining a relationship with Haggerty all the while dealing with a cantankerous boss and New York City politics; Eduardo Muňoz, the gay detective who gets outed by a homophobe in his precinct and is embarking upon a new relationship, and Brian Haggerty, who seems to be the least complicated of the bunch.

Yet although there were a number of elements in UNHOLY CITY that had possibilities, for this reader, there were too many flaws. Once the secrets of the suspects are unveiled, they hardly seemed worth killing over. The relationship between Codella and Haggerty is not fleshed out enough to make much sense. There were scenes in the book that provided moments of satisfaction, but as a whole, UNHOLY CITY didn't hold together for me.

Phyllis Onstad has been a writer, editor, civil servant, teacher and voracious reader. She currently lives in the California wine country.

Reviewed by Phyllis Onstad, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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