MysteryPeople Pick for October: Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara
Last year’s Sacrifice Fly was one of those debuts that sowed both the promise of a new writer and his series character. The book, featuring ex-cop-turned-teacher Ray Donne, is both gritty and warm, showing its Brooklyn’s sense of community as well as its tough streets. O’Mara is delivering on his promise with the follow up, Crooked Numbers.
Donne looks into the murder of a former student who made it into a private school and was repeatedly stabbed. To find out what happened, he navigates a New York of male and female gangs, class difference, and race, where it can be difficult to know which group protects and which preys upon. His inquiries take him to people struggling to make a life, some bravely weathering their circumstances, others completely lost in the cold city wind. An encounter with the victim’s father is truly heartbreaking.
It’s Donne’s circle of friends and family that make this book and Sacrifice Fly an engaging read. His uncle Ray, a tough and politically savvy police captain, shows up to help him in a particular subplot and chews him out. The senior officer’s dressing down of a young thug is one of the more entertaining and insightful passages. His sister Rachel shows up for one of their dinners which I’m glad to see seems to be a part of each book. There’s also the gang at the cop bar where he moonlights, and his friendship with reporter Allison Rogers has both the strength and fragility of a burgeoning relationship.
O’Mara realizes it’s people, not plots, that make a good mystery series. He’s developed a lead and supporting characters who I’ve gotten to know and am looking forward to discovering more about. Ray Donne is a great everyman hero, both descent and complex, searching for a place in his life and his city. I’m rooting for his peace of mind and look forward to his next steps toward it.
Copies of Crooked Numbers are available on the shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.