‘I like you, Danny. You always got a job with me.’
New York author Lawrence J. Epstein is a former professor of English at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island where he taught courses writing and journalism as well as on Jewish thought and the Holocaust. He has served as an adviser on the Middle East to two members of the United States Congress. His many publications include Jewish-related books as The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, At the Edge of a Dream: The Story of Jewish Immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side, 1880-1920, and A Treasury of Jewish Anecdotes. He has also written a variety of other books including Mixed Nuts, about American comedy teams, as well as over a hundred articles on Jewish subjects for such places as The Jerusalem Post.
Lawrence writes in a near conversational style, gradually introducing his characters and the environment in which they find themselves, and then introduces the flags that will point the way toward the evil to come. For instance, during a severe dust storm in 1935 Oklahoma Jack Bell steps out of the dust storm into his home – ‘His wife was lying on the floor, her face and the front of her dress covered in dried blood. She’d been lying there for a while. He went over to her, holding her, lifting her head, desperate to breathe life back into her. But Jack had seen death up close since he was a boy. He knew there was no breathing life back. He knew his wife and his unborn child were gone… He listened and thought he heard the swirling wind and the rabbits with crushed heads and the baby in the tiny coffin crying with him.’
This being Volume 1 of the Danny Rule Mysteries the main character Introduced as her shares his vocation – ‘Suffolk County, New York Fall 1982 I was late for work because I had to get rid of a corpse. Choo-Choo Pascal called me just after ten at night and told me to get over to his house immediately. Choo-Choo got his nickname because as a teenager he had pushed people in front of oncoming subway trains. I went over to his house. One of Choo-Choo’s “assistants” let me inside. Choo-Choo was smoking a cigar and sipping some brandy. He gained more weight every time I saw him, which was as infrequently as possible. “You did good, Danny,” he said. “I was timing you. It’s a Sunday night and you got here quick.” I nodded. I said, “What’s the mess you want me to clean up, Choo-Choo?” He laughed. “You was always like that. Right to business. I got a dead guy who is just lying around in my living room making a mess. He’s bleeding all over my red carpet and the colors of the blood and the carpet don’t match. The pity of it is I think I need to get a new carpet.” “I assume you are asking me to remove the gentleman.”
The synopsis outlines where Danny is headed – ‘Danny Ryle is a political fixer on Long Island. From a parking ticket to a damaged romance, Danny is there to make things right. But then he is asked to solve an old murder. Danny first seeks help from his father—a retired hit man. There are suspects galore. From the Hamptons west, Danny travels across Long Island seeking clues, searching for the comforting taste of doughnuts, avoiding attempts on his life, looking for love, and all the while trying to solve a mystery the police never could. Danny has to deal with an ambitious politician who wants to run for President, the world of art, and a boss that makes his life miserable. Armed with his brains and the help of two associates, Danny struggles to survive in the rough and tumble world of 1982 life.’
Powerful tale spinning – beautifully written and rich in suspense and a full taste of American history all related by wholly three-dimensional characters. Reading Book 1 encourages the reader to follow the entire series. This is an exciting author.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.