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.
by Julia Dahl
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.