Brooklyn Graves by Triss Stein is the second traditional mystery featuring historian Erica Donato, who'll research Tiffany glass as well as the murder of a family friend (available March 4th, 2014).
Erica Donato is a single mother of a teenage daughter and an overworked, underpaid, dissertation-writing apprentice historian. In the space of one twenty-four hour period, all of the balls she has been juggling drop around her. At work, she is assigned a historical research project involving the Tiffany family—yes, that Tiffany. Between exploring dilapidated mausoleums containing Tiffany artwork in Green-Wood Cemetery and digging through turn of the century letters, Erica must complete all of her other academic work.
Then Erica’s daughter, Chris, drops a bombshell. A good friend of the family, Dima, who worked as a custodian at Chris’ school, has been killed. He was shot through the head and found lying on his front lawn. In the days after the news breaks, Erica tries to help her friend, Natalya, Dima’s wife, navigate the waters of police interviews and grief. However, as she works to help Natalya, Erica discovers there’s more to this family than meets the eye.
And history doesn’t always stay in the past.
Brooklyn Graves is the second novel in the Erica Donato series. Here history meets modern Brooklyn. With her contacts and background in New York history, Erica is where the past and present meet. She sees connections and links where others don’t.
Neat, historical touches are woven throughout the story. Erica’s first brush with Tiffany artwork takes place, macabrely enough, in a cemetery: Green-Wood Cemetery. There are mausoleums with stained glass windows attributed to Tiffany’s work. Erica visits the cemetery with the preeminent Tiffany expert, Dr. Thomas Flint. Together they learn there may have been damage to the windows, a circumstance that greatly bothers Dr. Flint and causes Erica a mountain of follow-up work.
Aside from the workload that the cemetery brings the characters, there is also a good deal of flavor Stein adds to the overall story via tidbits of information from the past:
Walking briskly I soon found myself walking up Battle Path, which is not a fanciful name. An early battle of the American Revolution had been fought and lost here, the one when Washington famously said, “What brave men I must lose today.” I knew some of them were buried right here where they fell, long before it was a cemetery.
At the center of the story is the murder of Dima, a Russian immigrant who, along with his wife Natalya, works at Erica’s daughter’s selective private school. Dima works as a custodian at the school and Natalya is a secretary. Since Dima and Natalya work at the school, their son, Alex, can attend what otherwise would be out of their reach.
After Dima's murder, everything is chaotic at first—the school calls assemblies, police canvas the neighborhood, and Natalya is confronted with Dima’s relatives, including one questionable brother, Vladimir. Overwhelmed with the outpouring of grief, Natalya asks Erica to help her family.
When Erica agrees to help, she doesn’t think much of it. Then Alex shows up on her doorstep with a cell phone. It turns out hard-working, honest Dima might not have been everything he seemed.
“How can I help?”
As he took his left hand out of his jacket pocket, I realized he had kept it there the whole time. Was he hurt? Was it a weapon?
It was a cell phone.
“Not mine. My father’s.”
“And?” Come on, I thought. Maybe I should have given him coffee; he was having trouble even talking.
“Not his usual phone. My mother has that, or maybe the police now. I think…this is a secret. I found it…”
With that, Erica is drawn into the murder investigation much deeper. Her historian tendencies lead her to write down the contact list from the cell phone before she hands it over to police. Her curiosity leads her to dial a couple numbers….
Soon, mausoleums are not the only things she’s exploring. Mysterious empty houses, a possible real-estate scam, and getting caught between locals and Russian immigrants are just a few of the things Erica winds up involved with. As the tangled mess surrounding Dima’s death is unraveled, and more bodies start showing up, it becomes very apparent that Dima might have only been the beginning.
Brooklyn Graves consistently surprises and twists. The layers Stein has created—Erica’s historical perspective, Dima’s murder, Erica’s relationship with her daughter—come together and create something very similar to a mosaic, a Tiffany design. Each section of the story eventually comes together and creates a very lovely picture.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.