Friday, January 11, 2019

Reading into a New Year

It's already eleven days into the new year. Where does the time go? Don and I have been lollygagging our way through the first week, putting off the packing that must be done before we head to Maryland at the end of the month for his hip replacement surgery.

I had two assignments from Library Journal, wonderful novels that are always dark and deep, so I prefer to intersperse them with what I consider a little light reading. This time that didn't turn out to be the case. Former co-worker and friend Lesa Holstine had recommended Jeffrey Siger's "An Aegean April" on her favorites list and, since I love, love, love Greece, I dove right in. This is the ninth in a series featuring Andreas Kaldis, Athens chief inspector, who reflects Mr. Siger's own mixed feelings about his adopted country.

 There is nothing light about the plight of refugees seeking asylum on Greek and Italian islands as Don and I learned first hand from his grandson who's been studying and writing about the crisis in Sicily. The novel begins with a horrific murder of a wealthy businessman, Mihalis Volandes, who, having made his fortune in shipping, has partnered with an activist NGO, offering his ships to help rescue Turkish migrants floundering at sea off the coast of Lesvos.

What doesn't make sense is that Ali Sera, a young immigrant himself, who's been working with the NGO, Safe Passage, is found at the scene covered in blood. There is no murder weapon and no motive but still he is arrested in a ploy to strike the fear of immigrants into the hearts of the island's residents, a plot that sounds eerily like the contrived crisis that our president has concocted at our own borders.

Siger examines the usual tensions that arise between police departments that spar for funding and jurisdiction, as well as the corruption that motivates a medical examiner to falsify records in order to keep Sera locked up. The feisty American, Dana McLaughlin, who heads up Safe Passage, puts pressure on Kaldis to come over from Athens to intervene in the investigation and the search is on for a ruthless killer with no political agenda, and the head of a Turkish slave trafficking ring. This fast-paced mystery stands perfectly well on its own but it may prompt some of you to go to the beginning and get to better know chief inspector Kaldis and his crew.

On my ipod I had downloaded the second book by Thomas Mullen following "Darktown," which introduced readers to the Atlanta police department circa 1950, a time when the government forces the hiring of Atlanta's first black officers. Lucian Boggs and Tommy Smith struggle to do their work within the tight parameters set by the department, no weapons, no offices, no access to police cars, in other words, they are set up to fail.

"Lightning Men" begins more slowly than its predecessor but it is equally powerful as a historical testament to the courage of these young black officers, educated veterans of World War II, who hope to prove their worth to their own black community who often see them as sell-outs, and to the white community they plan to integrate.

In this episode Boggs and Smith are apprised of an illegal moonshine business being run out of the back of a locally owned grocery store. Trying to keep booze and drugs out of the black community is a priority for Boggs, the preacher's son, but when the partners stake out the operation, catching the perpetrators in the middle of a handoff, they discover, to no one's surprise, that it's white men running the show. Black officers are not even allowed to question a white man, let alone arrest him, and now one is lying dead in the road.

Addressing issues of white flight, neo-Nazis, the Klan, and the Sisyphean task facing black police officers in the Jim Crow south, Thomas Mullen does an outstanding job of delivering tight thrillers coupled with an accurate look at our shameful history of racial injustice.

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