Fresh Meat: Stealing from the Dead by A.J. Zerries

Stealing from the Dead by A.J. Zerries
Stealing from the Dead by A.J. Zerries
Stealing from the Dead by A.J. Zerries is a police procedural thriller featuring Detective Greta Strasser and a mystery dating back to World War II (available August 21, 2012).

Before she can even sit down at her desk, Detective Greta Strasser is called to her first homicide of the day. However, when she and her partner arrive, opinions are that it’s a waste of time. Cops already on the scene are sure it’s a suicide, but Greta isn’t so sure.

This is the introduction we have to Greta Strasser, a dedicated member of the NYPD who doesn’t just see what’s in front of her nose when investigating crime. She tends to look at all the details, which impresses and infuriates her superiors on a daily basis.

I absolutely love this woman. She is strong, self-assured, and most often right in her deductions about events around her. Like most good heroines, she is flawed, but she is also a product of the things that happened in her life over which she had no control. She’s still haunted by a dark period in her past, just after her fiancé was killed on 9/11, where she was reckless and headstrong in every area of her life. It not only eats away at her psyche, it has also affected her job in a horrible way.

Greta had a regrettable affair with her precinct captain and then carelessly cast him aside when she was through with him. He wasn’t finished with her and became vengeful stalker, following her everywhere and menacing her from afar. When his wife discovered his indiscretion, she took his baby and left in a drunken stupor. Unfortunately she and the baby were killed in a horrible car wreck and the captain now seeks to punish Greta every day for what he feels she did to him.

The precinct captain is a nasty sort that most everybody on the job dislikes, but that doesn’t mean anyone will come to Greta’s aid. Her lieutenant knows she’s one of the best detectives he has, but he’s close to retirement and doesn’t want to rock the boat. Greta understands and struggles with the daily humiliating tasks like being assigned to wear a uniform and serve as security for angry bikers on the streets of Manhattan. It’s a “newbie” job, and everyone is astonished when it’s assigned to Greta.

Still, Greta’s diligent and in the course of her assignment, comes across a murderer who has been evading police for months. Her effort to catch him lands her in hot water with the PC again, but it also rejuvenates the case against this vicious killer and she gets secret updates from her partner, who is working it actively while Greta is forced into the exile that is desk duty and possibly forced retirement.

The story begins simply enough, but don’t expect simple to be the rule of the day. This is a complex, compelling tale that will keep you up at night because you can’t bear to close the book.

Alan and Jean Zerries are a husband-and-wife writing team whose first novel, The Last Van Gogh, was a carefully woven thriller. This book proves it wasn’t just a fluke. It’s a stunning portrayal of a woman who only seeks to right wrongs in the world and seems to hit a wall at every turn.

Things do improve for Greta when her PC is forced to let her join a task force made up of military, federal, state, and local crime specialists. This group notices the work Greta does on her own to prove her homicide victim isn’t a suicide. Not only was she correct, she managed to prove this was only one of a series of murders all over the United States—all involving Holocaust survivors.

I could talk all day about this book, and, in fact, would love to lead a discussion group about it. It’s a fascinating read that leads you in a dozen different directions. Yet you never mind all the travel because it’s such an enjoyable trip.

This is only a small scene, but I have no doubt it will leave you wanting more:

When she walked into the Two-Four the next morning, the desk sergeant gestured that she was to report directly to Quill’s office. Greta was prepared.

She didn’t knock, just walked straight in. “You want to see me?” If her tone was crisp, if she was projecting confidence, those acting classes back in her undercover days were really paying off.

“Want to see you?” he asked. “No, I never want to see you, except the day you walk out the front door of this house for good.”

Through a thin smile, she replied, “Then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.” Uninvited, she slid into the chair directly across from him.

In the years since their brief time as an item, he’d gained at least forty pounds, most of them from booze. His eyes appeared flatter and smaller, the light remaining in them diminished, as if sopped up by his spongy cheeks. “I’ll be disappointed? No, I don’t think so. I command this precinct, Strasser.”

“I command my own self-respect,” she shot back, “and I want to know why—”

Pushing back from his desk, he feigned amazement. “Did I hear you right? Did you just claim to have self-respect?”

Disregarding him, she forged ahead. “Why are you doing everything possible to keep me from performing my duty?”

“You can’t do your duty if you consistently ignore the importance of—”

“What? Mindless paperwork?” To keep her rising anger from getting in the way, she hissed through clenched teeth: “Nothing is more important than getting VX off the street. My partner and I worked that case. Was I supposed to stop and ask you for permission to pursue when he was only a few feet away from me on Astor Place? That’s not even taking initiative—that’s just plain instinct. It’s being a cop, doing my job. Being chained to a damn desk is not!”

Quill’s little eyes rolled upward, as if he’d heard it all before. “We’re not getting anywhere. You can go back to that same desk right now. And stay there.”

“If you’re so concerned about the precinct, why shut down a detective who should be out there, lowering your stats?” Before the shaky façade crumbled, she cocked her head to one side and raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t that the CompStat crown all you PCs run after? ‘Oh, my murders are down, my felonies are down, but how many precincts are lower than mine this year, this month?’ Tell me, what’s your vendetta against me accomplished, other than exporting VX to the Seven-Eight?”

That had caught Quill off guard. Now he was paying attention.

“Right now,” Greta continued, “the Ninth and the Seven-Eight, besides worrying over their own numbers, are watching them go up—thanks to another PC’s failure to contain a one-man crime wave in his own precinct. I didn’t turn up on my own for March’s Critical Mass. You assigned—”

Quill’s upper lip rolled back. His neck swelled over his shirt collar.

“You have no right to question any assignment I make!”

“A detective in a uniform on parade duty? You won’t find a single cop, not even one of your kiss-ups, who wouldn’t call that punishment. You and I both know exactly why you did it, and it wasn’t over a request for some techs to check out a potential crime scene. What you’re doing is counterproductive, unwarranted, and personal. It’s also twisted—you’re trying to shift the blame for what happened to your kid and your wife fourteen years ago onto me.”

When Greta is finally unshackled from her desk, she finds herself investigating crimes in ways she never dreamed possible. And she’s more than equipped for the task.

According to my investigation into this book, I predict you’ll love it. I also say you’ll be looking for the first book by A.J. Zerries, if you haven’t read it already.

Find more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, blogs at, and recently wrote the short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” which is in the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. She and her writing partner, Jan Powell, have a paranormal novel, Second Nature, under the pseudonym Neely Powell coming out in early 2013.

Read all posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.