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In this Rain, by S.J. Rozan

May 13, 2007

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S.J. Rozan’s detective series with Lydia Chin and Bill Smith is one of my favorites. Quite unusual in the world of mystery is the fact that the point of view changes from Chin in one book to Smith in the next book. The two are partners, teetering on the edge of being lovers, but held back by their vastly different cultures – and the opinion of Lydia’s Chinese mother. It feels almost voyeuristic to read one story from Chin’s point of view, knowing her feelings and thoughts about Smith, and then jump to his point of view and know his feelings and thoughts about her, in the next book.

 

This review, however, is about a new book by Rozan, In This Rain, in which a completely new and different set of partners is introduced. Joe Cole has just gotten out of prison for a crime he did not commit. His ex partner Ann Montgomery is the only person who believed in his innocence and stayed by him during his incarceration. He lost his wife, his job, his daughter, and almost his will to live. But now Montgomery needs his help.

 

Joe has no interest in getting back into the “business” of working for New York City’s Department of Investigations. He has too much to do in his garden. Because I am a gardener, this part of the book really spoke to me. The garden is Joe’s escape from the world that did him wrong.

A couple times he’s almost called her, but he needed to pull the blackberries that wound around the hollyhocks, threatening to choke them. And near the house he had herbs to plant: rosemary, oregano, lavender, three kinds of thyme. A little useless because he didn’t cook. But their traces in the air in the midday sun would be worth the effort. And though most herbs would probably not make it through the winter in this climate, some would. Those would flower next spring, filling the garden with butterflies and bees.

Anybody who knows plants knows that this man is creating a garden that will only come to fruition in the future. No gaudy, flash in the pan, annuals that fill the whole space the summer they are planted, for Cole. He is slowly laying down the backbone, thinking about bloom and time of year, color, fragrance, birds and insect visitors. This is a devastated man patiently healing himself, rebuilding his life and a future, even though he dare not think about it.

And of course there is the mystery, which takes place in New York City. The city is a living character in the story; the focus is the last, buildable block in Harlem. A slightly dishonest mayor who has visions of the governorship, a very crooked developer, a community activist who cares about the children, and various government employees all have a stake in this development. When accidents start cropping up at a building site, Montgomery is sent in to investigate allegations of corruption and criminal misconduct by those doing business with the city.

The first third of the book, which sets up the background of the myriad of characters, contains a bit more information than is needed. The extended back story really slows down the plot. But once past that point, the fast action of the complicated, convoluted story grabs you, and takes you for a wild ride.

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