Harry Houdini, Jewish magician and performer. Born 3/24/1874.
One of the most fun parts of writing book reviews is getting to read books that are outside of my usual comfort zone. Because we like to keep things positive here on Books and Blintzes, you will never hear about the duds. But every so often a book arrives at my doorstep that surprises me as just being the right book at the right time. Conviction, the third installment of Julia Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts mystery series, was just that book.
Being too impatient for most mysteries, I had missed Dahl’s acclaimed debut installment, Invisible City. The good news is that Dahl includes enough of the characters’ back stories in Conviction to make sure readers can get up to speed quickly. So go ahead and read Conviction first. Then, when you’re hooked, you can go back and enjoy the other two books.
This book caught my attention because of its setting. Investigative reporter Rebekah Roberts is drawn into the story of a gruesome murder that took place in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn shortly after the riots in the summer of 1992. Now, 22 years later, she’s exploring the possibility that the wrong person was convicted. This gives Dahl a platform to incorporate not only the politics of the relationship between the Hassidic and African-American residents of Crown Heights in 1992, but also to highlight the issues of gentrification, police brutality, and the ongoing tensions in race relations that have intensified rather than disappeared. Readers interested in the way that the media portrays local events and the crime beat will appreciate Dahl giving them a front row seat to the action.
Dahl drives Conviction with strong characters and respect for the communities she portrays. Her straightforward prose keeps the pages turning, and aside from a generous sprinkling of Yiddish and Jewish religious terms, the book is accessible to anyone who might enjoy a crime novel. I will confess that even though the Conviction held my attention enough that I burned through it in less than 24 hours, I still flipped forward to read the ending when I was halfway through. Without any effort, I was able to think of five other people who I knew would be interested in this book. I will be enthusiastically sharing my copy, which is just about as good as a popular mystery can get.
I received a free pre-release ARC from the publisher, Minotaur Press, in order to write this review.