‘The Hunter’ by Jennifer Herrera. Putnam. 352 pages, $27
The small town is a misnomer, at least in the mystery story, a fact that NYPD homicide detective Leigh O’Donnell continues to struggle with in Jennifer Herrera’s debut “The Hunter” .”
Leigh left her hometown of Copper Falls, Ohio, about 14 years ago, refusing to return for weddings or receptions. New York gives her everything she needs in life, including her husband Eric, her 4-year-old daughter Simone, and her police career.
He returned after being fired from the force for pointing his Glock at a fellow police officer — an act he couldn’t explain, even to himself. His brother, Ronan, now a Copper Falls cop, offers him a job and a refuge: Find out if three healthy 25-year-old men killed themselves or were killed. Their bodies were found in nearby waterfalls, suggesting other deaths over the years.
To understand his homeland, Leigh explored its history, where people wanted to preserve the past.
Novelist Herrera delves deep into crafting believable, multi-layered characters in “The Hunter.” The stubborn Leigh shows contradictions, protecting his home but loving his family; worries that her biracial daughter is the only Black child in the area, but believes Simone will be safe. Her husband, who is Black and divorced, calls her “idle;” something that makes him angry but he knows it’s right.
Likewise, Copper Falls confronts itself with decades of secrets that have been brewing, from police department policies to the way residents treat those who live outside of town. , or “The Sticks.”
“The Hunter” creates a new and much appreciated story.
‘Early Grave’ by Paul Levine. Herald Square. 364 pages, $16.95
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In 1990, Paul Levine, then a Miami attorney, created his Jake Lassiter story with “Speak for the Dead,” helping to start a new wave of Florida mysteries. “To Speak for the Dead” was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times and won Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award.
Jake, a former linebacker lawyer, is known for his wry personality – especially a smart mouth that has often gotten him into trouble, causing him to be disrespected many times. Jake also has a sarcastic view of the law, saying in Levine’s novel “Bum Luck” that “the relation of ‘law’ to ‘justice’ is that of roadkill possum to filet mignon.Levine’s knowledge of all things Florida is anchored in stories that also touch on current events.
Levine often puts Jake on hiatus as he works on other shows and as a writer, writing 20 episodes of the CBS military drama “JAG.”
“Early Grave” revisits Jake’s death as his symptoms of CTE, a neurodegenerative disease often associated with people who have suffered multiple head injuries, worsen. But Jake is tough – it’s amazing! – and tried to keep quiet about her symptoms, even though Melissa Gold, the neuropathologist who treated her and her husband, knew how bad her health was. Despite his background in law, he believes in the difference he can make through his business.
The effects of CTE are brought home again when his young godson Rodrigo Pittman suffers serious neck injuries during a game. Jake is guilty because he encouraged Rodrigo to play football. Jake’s weapon is the law, first targeting Rodrigo’s coach, then he files an injunction against high school football in general, intending to stop the games until to ensure the safety of the players. Meanwhile, a cabal that is secretly giving money to get NFL players out of trouble wants to keep Jake.
Levine doesn’t miss a step on “Early Grave,” his 15th tour with Jake, who’s as funny as ever. A connection to the plot combined with Jake’s character, relationships and health struggles add depth to “Early Grave.”
Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at [email protected].