Brooklyn Bones by Triss Stein is a traditional mystery involving a crime from the 1960s (available February 5, 2013).
I am a huge mystery fan, no surprise there, and I especially love mysteries that have their roots in the past. Triss Stein has a real knack for melding the present and the past in her writing. How am I so sure? Well, a few years ago I edited an anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, and it included a wonderful short story that tied together odd bits of Brooklyn history as time weaved its way in and out of one man’s life. Because that story, “The Greenmarket Violinist,” was written by Triss Stein, I was anxious to see how Triss would present Brooklyn to us in her new novel, Brooklyn Bones.
Once again the protagonist is history Ph.D. candidate Erica Donato who is also an intern at a small Brooklyn museum. In the course of remodeling her “edge of Park Slope” home, Erica’s biking buddy/contractor friend Joe and Erica’s daughter, fifteen-year-old Chris have found a skeleton. When Erica hopes out loud that the bones are animal, Joe quickly points her to the hole that “Chris had smashed in the wall.”
Erica was shocked and saddened by what she saw:
It was a human body, all right, folded up to fit the space, but neatly arranged and partly dressed, and pathetically small. I knew the living person had probably been bigger, that the skeleton tends to collapse. Even in the dim flashlight, I could see there was more there than bones. The body was wearing what was left of a tie-dyed T-shirt, and it was wrapped in the shreds of an Indian print cloth. She, he, it must have been wearing jewelry. The flashes of silver shone from among the wrist and finger bones, and near the head where the ears might have been. The bones of one arm may have been wrapped around a large teddy bear. Neatly arranged along one side of the body were colorful tattered squares, magazines perhaps, and a twisted object made of metal piping.
The sight took a minute to sink in, and when it did, I stopped breathing. I was looking at the remains of someone young enough to hug a teddy bear. Old enough to wear jewelry. I thought of Chris’s room, with her stuffed animals still lined up on her bed, and her vast collection of earrings, and my eyes stung.
Poignant as that scene is, a few pages later the poignancy increases when we realize that this is more a burial site than a body dump. One of the police techs finds a broken piece of brick inscribed “RIP.” He reads a date. “9/16/72.”
As an historian, Erica is intrigued by the discovery, but as a mom, she is worried about the effect finding the body will have on Chris. Her grounds for worry expand when she discovers that Chris has gone off on her own to investigate the building’s ownership history. And then there is the menacing photographer hanging outside her house snapping pictures. Boy, does he get ugly when Erica asks him to stop. On the same corner is the local bag lady who keeps talking in circles although some of her circles don’t quite connect. Shortly after, severe threats against Erica and Chris begin in earnest.
This is a splendid story with an authentic Brooklyn touch and it ends in a way that is unexpected yet has a “how did I not know that” quality. I hope we will have a long series of Erica Donato novels and stories, as I cannot imagine ever getting tired of these folks and their re-gentrifying slice of Brooklyn.
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Terrie Farley Moran’s recent collection of short stories, THE AWARENESS and other deadly tales, is currently available in e-format for the Nook and for the Kindle. Terrie blogs at Women of Mystery. www.womenofmystery.net. She is currently writing a cozy mystery set in a beach community in southwest Florida.