There’s something about modern New York crime writers. The likes of Lawrence Block, Reed Farrel Coleman, and SJ Rozan hit the heart like no one else. Whether it comes from an awareness of loss that can only be conveyed by people who live so close to Ground Zero or the sense of an intense mingling of cultures and community, even if they write about a loner (making the tone even more melancholy), there’s something that sets these writers apart. Tim O’Mara proves to be a welcome addition to the New York crew with his debut, Sacrifice Fly.
O’Mara’s hero is Ray Donne, an ex-baseball player and cop. Ray is embedded in his Brooklyn neighborhood as a high school teacher and fill-in bartender at The Line Up, a local cop bar. He’s so involved with his community he goes looking for one of his students, Frankie, before he’s marked truant and loses an athletic scholarship. When he checks the apartment of the boy’s father, he finds the man dead and Frankie the main suspect.
Ray uses his police skills and connections (his uncle is the chief of detectives) in his continuing search for Frankie. His personal investigation puts him up against some cops as well as some very religious gangsters. It also forces him to face who he is and the trauma from his police past.
It’s the sense of Brooklyn that shines in this book. Not since Craig Johnson’s work have I read a hero who interacts with his community so fully. Ray’s brothers and sisters have a traditional monthly dinner that I hope will be a staple of the series. The denizens of The Line Up and their banter echoes films like Marty and A Bronx Tale. The story really stands out when Ray is at school. O’Mara, a working school teacher, gives us a feel for this job, both in its grind and in its art. The interactions Ray has with students and coworkers is something I hope he mines in further books.
Tim O’Mara has created a fresh character in Ray Donne. I look forward to revisiting his Brooklyn. It’s tough and dangerous enough to provide an exciting backdrop, and populated with people who have enough true heart and warmth you want to spend time there.