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Nikki has been hired by Martin Johannessen to confront the grifter who’s been fleecing his wealthy, 81-year-old San Francisco mother. Dr. Geoffrey Tyler Coombs, as he calls himself, is posing as an Oxford-educated psychologist, and he’s already bilked Mrs. Johannessen out of $1.5 million, luxury watches and a fully loaded Porsche 911. But when Nikki meets him after trailing him to his fancy hotel, his elegant perfidy soon fades in the face of larger, out-and-out treachery. There will be kidnappings, blackmail and twists that wouldn’t seem out of place in recent television dramas about the fabulously rich.
Private detective novels naturally tilt toward the untrustworthiness of most characters, but Lelchuk delights in showing just how shady everyone turns out to be. This is good business for Nikki Griffin, but I do wonder about the added emotional cost, and if there will be further consequences in subsequent books.
A baby vanishes from her carriage at a neighborhood grocery store in 1930s Harlem, only one of the devastating events that mark Karla FC Holloway’s GONE MISSING IN HARLEM (Triquarterly, 223 pp., paper, $18.95). As she did in her first novel, Holloway chronicles the ripple effects of an early wave of the Great Migration, as the community forged in an uptown New York City neighborhood finds itself under continued threat from the grotesqueries of Jim Crow laws.
Displacement is the theme here, ripping the fabric of the Mosby family from the very first. The influenza pandemic takes one of their family members, and there is no real chance for healing with the onset of the Great Depression, an unwanted pregnancy and the casual cruelty of racism (it speaks to the depth of Holloway’s skill that the most bone-chilling scenes are rooted in the most mundane interactions).
Then there is further pall cast by the shadow of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. It couldn’t happen in Harlem, what with the players being rich and famous, but something close to it could, and does. To survive the onslaught, whether it be kidnapping, poverty or prejudice, the family matriarch, Lilah, “practiced how to act instead of how to be.”