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by David Rosenfelt
Minotaur, March 2018
336 pages
ISBN: 1250133122

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

David Rosenfelt, author of New Jersey crime novel FADE TO BLACK, has thrown several balls in the air and managed to keep them moving. The trouble is, murder mysteries are best when one singular path drives to an unexpected conclusion, or when two or three paths braid a design. In Rosenfelt's newest, he juggles the plot elements he has created, but it seems for no other purpose except that we are to admire the juggler. That is fine when there are verbal fireworks, or when the characters are endearing, brash, or quirky. Perhaps Rosenfelt forgot to love these characters into being. They remain so many balls not dropped, a temporary pastime.

Dramatis personae: Doug Brock, police detective who suffers from amnesia, a disability which does not really add anything to the plot or to his personhood; his partner, quite a competent police detective, from before the injury which disabled Doug; Jessie Allen, Doug's significant other, also a member of the police force; William Simmons, homeless ex-insurance executive, who spends all but the first few pages of the novel dead; Rita Carlisle, who does not even get a walk-on, who used to work in hospital administration, ordering supplies from drug companies, before she unaccountably disappeared; her boyfriend, doing time for his murder of Rita, a crime he was convicted of circumstantially; Sean Connor, most of whose body we lose rather early on; Lewinsky, a sleazy hospital administrator; heartless mobsters in Las Vegas and in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Amnesiac Doug Brock becomes aware of hospital administrator Rita Carlisle's disappearance when a man he does not know approaches him and shares documents concerning Rita's case. As he works to reopen the three-year-old cold case, Brock realizes that he was the arresting officer for the case's main suspect. Now, investigating the case once more (almost as a different person), Brock realizes that it has not been solved to his satisfaction. The plot thickens, as we say in the book-reviewing trade, when the unknown man loses his head, or loses his body, one. The former is found in a park. We do not ever know where the latter has run off to.

All trails lead to the mob. The New Jersey bunch is run by the unsavory Joey Silva, his brother Tony, and their factotum Philly, who wishes he was more than a factotum. The New Jersey mob has made connections with the Las Vegas mobster Salvatore and his second-in-command Dominic, and the two groups have, ah, business dealings. What these dealings are, it is Brock and his sidekick's duty to unravel in the pages of this police procedural.

FADE TO BLACK is flawed, first off, in the title. What fades? The lives that are shortened by members of the mob are taken almost bloodlessly and swiftly. Second, neither the dead nor the living lay claim upon this reader. The novel unfolds as a series of connected subplots, but none of the subplots seems to inhabit a place, nor does any human agency ache, demand, swear, hate, cajole, or love its way through the barriers to knowledge which present themselves. Often, in a cold case, some sort of closure is offered the reader; in FADE TO BLACK, however, readers may guess what happened, but they never learn for certain.

Perhaps FADE TO BLACK is an example of realism in fiction, whose aim is to imitate life's chaos. If that is the case, as in life, no ends ever are quite knit up; and as far as the killers and their victims go, there is no justice or order. Perhaps Stumble to Black might be a more descriptive moniker.

Cathy Downs is professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she teaches American literature and is a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, December 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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