Speak Up, Save a Life
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July 5, 1992
Crown Heights, Brooklyn
The little boy walked to the storefront church alone, with blood on his hands and face.
Dorothy Norris arrived early, as usual, to lift the gate and set out the worship programs she’d photocopied the night before. She found him standing on the sidewalk, eyes unfocused, feet bare.
She bent down. “Ontario, where are your parents?” He didn’t answer. It was already eighty degrees, but his teeth were chattering.
Dorothy used her key and ushered him inside, flipped the lights, and walked straight to the phone in the pastor’s tiny office. She dialed Ontario’s foster parents, but no one answered, so she called Pastor Green, and then she called her husband and told him to stay home with the girls until she knew what was going on.
Dorothy asked and asked and asked, but Ontario wouldn’t say a word.
Redmond Green’s wife, Barbara, answered the phone at his apartment. Red was in the bathroom scribbling last-minute sermon notes in a rare moment of solitude. Barbara sent fourteen-year-old Red Jr. to bang on the door and summon his father. Barbara hadn’t asked for details—Just go, she told her husband—and as he walked the eleven blocks between their apartment and the church, he worked himself up, convinced the metal gate had been defaced again. Since opening Glorious Gospel on Easter morning 1982, Pastor Green had been losing a battle with vandals. He called the police often, but they rarely came to take a report. He knew that most of the officers in the precinct thought his crusade silly, given the many miseries plaguing the neighborhood, but he wasn’t about to stop calling. In 1992, one year after the riots, Crown Heights was still a disaster. A battlefield and a garbage dump. It was getting hot again, and everyone seemed to hold their breath, waiting for the neighborhood to explode.
Pastor Green found the gate up when he arrived at Glorious Gospel. Dorothy Norris was inside with Malcolm and Sabrina Davises’ foster son, Ontario. The pastor’s first thought was that the boy had been attacked on his way to church. But Ontario was wearing sleep clothes, not church clothes.
“Something’s happened at the Davises’,” said Dorothy. “What?”
“He won’t say.”
“Ontario? Are you hurt?”
Ontario stared at the pastor. Past him, really. Through him. Pastor Green kneeled down and touched his arm. “He’s freezing cold,” he said, looking up.
“I think he’s in shock,” said Dorothy.
Ontario’s face was smeared with red. If the pastor had to guess, he would say that the boy had rubbed his eyes with his bloody hands.
“Is this his blood?”
Dorothy lowered her voice. “I don’t think so. But I don’t know.”
“Have you called the precinct?” asked Pastor Green. “Yes,” said Dorothy.
The pastor turned back to the boy.
“Ontario. Can I make sure you’re not hurt?” He took the boy’s right hand, turned it over, looked up and down his arm. He repeated the inspection on the boy’s left arm. “Is it all right if I lift your shirt?” Ontario was still. “I just want to see if there are any scratches or cuts. . . . Good. Looks good. Ontario? Will you turn around for me? Just to check your back.” As he turned, Pastor Green put his fingers on the boy’s neck, and then his skull. “Good. Looks like you’re okay.”
He put his hand on his knee to straighten up, and as he did, Ontario vomited. Right on the pastor’s Sunday wingtips. The boy’s eyes widened and filled with tears.
“Oh, honey,” said Dorothy, leaning down. “It’s okay.”
“It’s all right, son,” said Pastor Green. “Nothing a little water won’t fix up.”
Dorothy walked Ontario to the bathroom to wash out his mouth.
A voice came from the front door.
Rebekah Roberts, a journalist at one of New York’s sleaziest tabloids, has ambitions beyond the New York Tribune. When she gets her hands on a letter from a convicted murderer who claims he is innocent, Rebekah sees not only a compelling story but an opportunity to expose the true murderer.
Twenty-two years earlier, just after riots between the black and Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Deshawn Perkins was convicted of the brutal murder of his adoptive family. It’s not only time that has passed that hampers Rebekah’s investigation, everyone involved wants to forget the violence that occurred and even Saul Katz – a former NYPD and Rebekah’s source – can’t help her with this investigation.
As you’ve probably already gathered, Julia Dahl drops the reader straight into the action and doesn’t let up until the final page. The story unfolds through a number of viewpoints and switches between the time of the murder and Rebekah’s investigation.
One thing I really appreciated about ‘Conviction‘ was the fact that that I learnt about the Hasidic community and their traditions. I really felt that this was a unique aspect of this story and it really added something to the narrative.
I felt that the character of Rebekah was believable and it was really easy to empathise with her.
Julia Dahl’s writing ramps up the tension, evoking the cloying heat of New York City in a heatwave perfectly.
‘Conviction‘ is an utterly compelling page-turner of a book. Miss it at your peril.
To celebrate the publication of Killed, Thomas Enger – creator of the wildly popular Henning Juul series – is with us today to share some interesting facts about himself.
My thanks to Thomas and Orenda Books for having me on the blog tour.
‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ is a memoir told through near-death experiences.
Maggie O’Farrell is a beautiful writer, she frames every incident with emotional sophistication. The drama inherent in every chapter is balanced with O’Farrell’s exacting attention to detail. I have cried numerous times while listening to this audiobook as well as marvelling at the insightful and intelligent storytelling.
Separating each chapter with the part of the body that was responsible for her almost-demise, O’Farrell bucks the trend of the chronological autobiography. This is possibly one of the most inspirational books I have ever read. In the dictionary, beside the word ‘resilient’, there should be a picture of Maggie O’Farrell.
From the first chapter, I was absolutely enthralled. Even when I wasn’t listening to it, I was thinking about it. I’m not sure I will ever stop thinking about it.
As someone who rarely revisits books, this is the biggest compliment I can give: I will read ‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ again.
Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.
Later this month, I am hosting Noir at the Bar Newcastle at the Town Wall. One of the authors appearing there is Fiona Veitch Smith, author of the ‘Poppy Denby Investigates‘ series. Fiona is here today to talk about how her day job has inspired her writing.
Since working on the school newspaper when I was nine years old, I always wanted to be a journalist. I eventually went on to study journalism, media and history at Rhodes University in South Africa and then worked as a journalist in Cape Town in the 1990s. When I returned to the UK in 2002 I worked full time as a magazine journalist, then, while juggling pregnancies, a baby, an MA and the start of a creative writing career, I went freelance. For the last eight years I have lectured, part-time, on journalism modules at Newcastle University. And although now I would say I am a novelist before I am a journalist, journalism is still very much in my blood.
So it’s not surprising that my most successful books to date have been about a young, female journalist set in the 1920s. Despite the bad press the media has had over the last years with the Leveson Inquiry, the phone hacking scandal and the feud with Donald Trump over ‘fake news’, I still believe journalism at its best is one of the foundations of a healthy society. When journalists are doing their job properly, injustice is exposed, truth is upheld and people in power are held to account. And that’s the side of journalism that is hailed in the Poppy Denby books. However, I do not shy away from the seedier side of the profession and show instances of journalists bending the rules, breaking the law and taking bribes. My heroine, Poppy, tries to walk the narrow road, but doesn’t always succeed, and is surrounded by jaded hacks who are shamed by her idealism.
My life working on newspapers and magazines, as a reporter, feature writer and sub-editor, has helped me create an authentic world for my characters. In the three books so far (and the fourth I’m busy writing) I have used my knowledge of life in a newsroom and my broader understanding of the media’s interplay with the police, politicians and advertisers to my advantage.
I have even drawn on some ‘real life’ stories from my days on the newspaper in Cape Town. In the first book, The Jazz Files, Poppy’s relationship with the DCI Richard Easling is based on a misogynistic police chief in Cape Town who tried to influence and bully me into changing a number of stories to put the police in a better light. I refused to do it. On a lighter note, her first job going to interview a theatre director at the Old Vic was based on my own experience covering the art scene in Cape Town – as well as my own foray onto the boards. The drunken Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream actually happened when I played Cobweb in a university production. In the latest book, set on the New York Times, I am vicariously living out my own ambition of working for a paper of that stature.
So, although I did, in the end, give up the day job to become a novelist, I’ve never given up on it in my heart.
Fiona Veitch Smith is the author of the Poppy Denby Investigates series. Book 1, The Jazz Files, was shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger 2016. Book 2, The Kill Fee, was a finalist in the Foreword Book Review Mystery of the Year, and book 3, The Death Beat is out now. www.poppydenby.com