Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Brooklyn Legacies by Triss Stein: Reading Room Review


I’ve thought for quite some time that fiction authors make great tour guides. I’ve even suggested (okay, begged) an author or two to create an actual, physical tour of the places of which they write. Well, Triss Stein, with her Erica Donato series set in Brooklyn, is one of the best tour guides I read. She brings Brooklyn and its history alive to readers, while Erica, a present-day historian, works on solving historical and murder mysteries. Each book in the series deals with a different area and historical period of Brooklyn, so I keep adding to my knowledge of this fascinating place. In Book #5, Brooklyn Legacies, it’s Brooklyn Heights, New York’s first suburb and first historic district, that gets the attention and storyline, pitting beliefs and traditions and motivations against one another of people deeply entrenched in the community. This story once again has me googling Brooklyn history and looking up further information on Brooklyn Heights. Reading Triss Stein’s Brooklyn series is for sure taking a leap down the rabbit hole for me, but it’s a rabbit hole I delightfully pursue.

So, at this juncture in the series, Erica is now Dr. Donato, having completed her PhD in urban history studies, and she works at the Brooklyn Art Museum, which affords her a financial security she hasn’t had in ages. Her teenage daughter Chris is a responsible, independent young woman whom Erica has raised by herself. And, Erica’s relationship with Joe is progressing nicely. So, life is going well, and Erica is doing the work she spent so much time studying for. When she takes on a project to find out more about a missing Walt Whitman plaque, it takes her to Brooklyn Heights, a location where posh old generational homes are in danger from modern development. Although it is the plaque that first takes Erica to this grand old neighborhood, there is another interest prodding her research. A book editor has suggested that Erica write a book about Brooklyn, or a piece of Brooklyn, and Erica thinks that Brooklyn Heights would make a fascinating subject. 

Louisa Gibbs is a long-time resident and preservation activist in the Brooklyn Heights community, and her devotion to her aging family home, a Victorian brownstone, is often at odds with her Jehovah Witness (Watch Tower Society) neighbors. The Watch Tower Society made its headquarters in Brooklyn Heights starting in 1909, so it’s presence and influence was well-felt there, too, but the organization had recently started selling off its property to relocate to upper state New York. Erica meets Louisa as she is having a property line dispute with one of the powerful leaders of the Jehovah Witnesses who has offices in the building next door to Louisa’s house. Louisa’s age doesn’t prevent her from being a powerful force herself, and Erica realizes that getting to know Louisa and her family’s history in Brooklyn Heights, plus what Louisa knows about all the other history of it, would be a tremendous boon to Erica’s research and aid in settling on a focus in her writing. As Erica gets to know Louisa better, she feels protective towards this elderly woman who is a living part of history, although Louisa doesn’t feel the need for protection, wanting to fight her own battles. And, with the entrance of real estate developers wanting Louisa out, too, Louisa needs Erica’s research and help. It will be a heated contest in more ways than one.  

The secrecy of the Jehovah Witnesses is indicative of the secretiveness of most of the characters in this Brooklyn Heights tale. People know more than they are telling, and the information being withheld can be crucial to solving a murder of a Jehovah witness leader. As is so often the case, the past connects to the present and the reasons for the murder. Even the people seem to appear from the shadows at times, as Erica explores the neighborhood and runs into characters who seem to offer a tidbit of information and then disappear. Witches and homeless and restoration experts and religious and pillars of the community and eager new business proprietors co-mingle in an atmosphere of addressing past grievances and moving forward. Can there be one without the other? The murder seems to suggest not. And, someone is writing letters to scare those involved, including Erica. Erica is trying to keep her “real” life going while delving into the mysteries of the past, but it’s taking a toll, and her focus is becoming myopic in scope. Brooklyn Heights is quite literally keeping her up nights, and her agreement to work with the police on gathering information helpful to their murder investigation isn’t making things any easier. It’s fortunate Erica is a historian because it’s going to take a lot of digging into the past to unmask a killer in the present. 

Mystery with history is my favorite mystery/crime reading, and Triss Stein’s Erica Donato series is one not to be missed by fans with this reading preference. Brooklyn Legacies carries on the astute research, fascinating characters, and superb writing that Stein has achieved in all the books in this series. I can’t wait to learn more about Brooklyn in the next book, which I hope is soon.  I have to give a shout-out to Poisoned Pen Press, too, as they publish this series and so many of my favorites. 

I was fortunate to receive an ARC of Brooklyn Legacies from the author. This review is based entirely on my honest reflections and opinions.

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