Thursday, July 23, 2015

Brad Parks’ latest Carter Ross mystery, ‘The Fraud,’ is a winner!

Jim Farrington
Guest Contributor

How do you write a novel about the mean streets of Newark (NJ) that centers on a prevalence of street crime without insulting a city that has already borne more than its share of ridicule and derision? Brad Parks, in his latest novel featuring investigative reporter Carter Ross, manages to walk that line with a plot that centers on an epidemic of car hijackings involving multiple murders and corruption. Early on, Parks writes “You don’t stop for red
lights late at night in Newark, New Jersey. At least you don’t if you know what’s good for you.” Parks knows of what he writes having worked for 10 years as a reporter at The Star-Ledger located in the heart of the city that never fully recovered from the riots of 1967.

Newark has long had one of the highest rates of car theft in the country. Its extensive poverty and its huge port facility just waiting to load the stolen merchandise into containers for shipment to waiting buyers in South America are a perfect fit.

Despite the routine occurrences of car theft, when a wealthy, white Newark banker is killed in a hijacking, it is front-page news in the Newark Eagle-Examiner where Carter Ross plies his trade. He finds the “angle” for his follow-story in the inequity of the reporting of that crime with a nearly identical hijack-murder of a Nigerian businessman that occurred a week earlier and rates little more than a mention in the police blotter.

Running through the novel as a sub-plot is the unusual relationship between Ross and his managing editor, Tina Thompson, who is now nine months pregnant with his child and still rebuffing his offers of marriage. The two have a long history dating back to Parks’ first book in the series, Faces of the Gone where Tina is introduced as Ross’ “smoking-hot city editor.”

Another theme that provides background for the novel is the decline in the newspaper industry itself. Parks manages to weave in the decline of the quality of reporting as seasoned veteran reporters are replaced with journalism school grads working as low-paid contract employees. A newsroom with many empty desks emphasizes what budget cuts have done to the in-depth reporting that used to be newspapers’ bread and butter.

“You don’t stop for red lights late at night in Newark, New Jersey. At least you don’t if you know what’s good for you.”

As Ross begins his investigation into the disparity of the two hijackings, he quickly finds they are actually related, something the police had never connected. It isn’t long before the trail leads to a whole series of hijackings that seem to be intensifying with accompanying murders becoming much more frequent.

Ross will follow a series of blind leads and find himself being followed in the process. His investigation will take him inside a suburban country club where suspicion falls on its less than likable management. There are more plot turns and red herrings as the book builds to a conclusion in which the plots collide with some major surprises.

The Fraud is the sixth in Brad Parks’ Carter Ross series. While Parks was a success right out of the gate garnering prestigious mystery fiction awards with his very first book, he continues to grow with each book as he fine-tunes his craft. He maintains an interesting cast of characters including the crotchety police reporter with all the connections, a wacky intern, a flamboyant gay colleague, a distinguished executive editor not to mention Carter’s on-again-off-again love, Tina. It is also refreshing that he doesn’t use Newark as a punchline, but shows respect for its citizens and an almost loving attachment to the city where he did some of his finest work as a reporter.

If you haven’t read any of the Carter Ross mysteries, I commend them to you. Parks manages to keep the murder and mayhem light with a lead character that is likable with his wise-cracking and self-deprecating humor but who is more than competent in his field. As for me, I’m looking forward to his next book.

Brad Parks has received the Shamus for best first private eye novel and the Nero for best American mystery for his debut, Faces of the Gone. He has won two Leftys for best humorous mystery for his third and fourth books, The Girl Next Door and The Good Cop. In addition The Good Cop won the Shamus Award for best hardcover novel. Parks is a graduate of Dartmouth College and spent a dozen years as a reporter for The Washington Post and The Star-Ledger.

Jim Farrington is a retired newspaper executive living in Chatham County, NC. Upon retirement, he reviewed books for The Star-Ledger for several years. He spends much of his free time volunteering at The CORA food pantry where he also serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors.

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