Brooklyn Secrets, the third novel in Triss Stein’s Erica Donato mystery series, has a lot going for it. It has a likable main character and narrative voice for its redoubtable heroine. It focuses attention on significant contemporary social problems. It has a well-developed plot that weaves together a number of related threads. And its setting in some of the diverse neighborhoods of Brooklyn—the hip and the hood, doesn’t hurt either.
Erica Donato is the single mother of a teenage girl. She is a graduate student in urban history working on her dissertation about the notorious neighborhood of Brownsville, famed historically as the home base of Murder Inc. back in the 1930’s when its population was mainly Jewish immigrants and their families. And if the neighborhood was a dangerous place then, its population base maybe different, but as far as danger goes, nothing has changed. Neighborhoods like Park Slope where Donato lives may be models of gentrification, but Brownsville remains a stronghold of urban blight. The more Donato learns about Brownsville past and present, the clearer the similarities.
Brownsville past comes to life for her when she meets two older women in an upscale senior citizen complex both of whom were raised in the old neighborhood. They share some of their memories with her, and one asks her to try to get some information about one of her older brothers, a favor Erica finds engrossing. Then as now what everyone wanted was a way out of the ghetto, and then as now they seemed to find the same ways—education, athletics and crime.
While doing her research she finds herself threatened by a gang of local thugs; she meets a bright young girl working at a local library who turns up a few days later beaten nearly to death and then another young library worker who ends up dead. Erica is not the kind of woman who will just let these kinds of things pass. She is a concerned citizen and feels impelled to do whatever she can to help the police and the families of two very promising girls by discovering their Brooklyn secrets.
Triss Stein is a fine story teller with a challenging story to tell, a story that resonates beyond its pages.
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