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In the Clear

In the Clear

by Steve Lopez

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Albert LaRosa has spent his whole life just trying to get from yesterday to tomorrow. Born, raised, and now the sheriff of a small New Jersey island town, he was forced back to his hometown of Harbor Light after his shot at the big time as a cop in Philadelphia was destroyed by the events of one dark night.

Twenty-five years and one marriage later, it looks as if


Albert LaRosa has spent his whole life just trying to get from yesterday to tomorrow. Born, raised, and now the sheriff of a small New Jersey island town, he was forced back to his hometown of Harbor Light after his shot at the big time as a cop in Philadelphia was destroyed by the events of one dark night.

Twenty-five years and one marriage later, it looks as if life might finally give him a break. Albert is offered a job as chief of security at a new casino at a salary he has only dreamed of. Not that his dreams were ever very grand.

Of course, not everyone in town is equally happy. Albert can live with the death threats. And the bombings. Even a dead body provides some professional excitement. He can take his father's tirades about selling out and he can cope with his girlfriend, Rickie, losing her business—at least he's always been a good friend to her son, Jack. What bothers him is that he might have to arrest one of them for murder.

Lopez throws his irresistible characters into the whirlwind that threatens to destroy the increasingly fragile world of Harbor Light, and makes us care both for them and for what they tell us about getting from one day to the next. As Albert realizes, you can get to your future only by way of your past. 6 X 9.

Author Biography: Steve Lopez is currently a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of two previous novels, The Sunday Macaroni Club and Third and Indiana. He has been an editor-at-large for Time magazine, and has also written for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Born in Pittsburg, CA, he has received the Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine reporting, a National Headliners Award for magazine feature writing, and the H. L. Mencken Award, among others. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A smalltown Jersey cop working in the shadow of Atlantic City sees the job of his dreams turn into a violent nightmare in Lopez's latest, a smart, funny character study disguised as a murder mystery. The story begins when 50ish sheriff Albert LaRosa gets an offer to become head of security for a new casino in his hometown of Harbor Lights. But LaRosa's bright future dims considerably when he learns that the slick, sleazy casino magnate, Oscar Price, has hired him to run interference for a series of land seizures from well-liked residents and the bulldozing of several houses, as well as the restaurant owned by LaRosa's erstwhile girlfriend Rickie. The battle between Price and his opponents turns nasty when a town meeting triggers a series of incidents intended to stop the building process, starting with a car bomb that takes out Price's car, followed by a blast that wipes out a local department store and then a bridge explosion in which a long-time resident is inadvertently killed. The high-profile violence attracts the FBI, but LaRosa makes most headway behind the scenes as the trail of suspects narrows to include LaRosa's rebellious father and Rickie's troubled son, Jack. The narrative is fast-paced and mesmerizing, as Lopez employs a combination of cynical, world-weary humor, a taut, riveting plot line and gritty but heartfelt character writing to push the story along. The climax is captivating, but what makes this effort truly memorable is the compassion with which LaRosa handles his moral quandary and Lopez's sure-handed command. (May) Forecast: In the Clear is even more assured than Lopez's previous outing, Third and Indiana, and should move him up a notch in readership. The writer will embark on a four-city author tour, and his day job as columnist for the L.A. Times should assure him ample press coverage. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Jersey Shore town resists the march of progress with a few well-placed explosives, causing no end of trouble for its amiable sheriff—in a crime and culture tale from LA Times columnist and Greater Philly specialist Lopez (The Sunday Macaroni Club, 1997, etc.). An inlet and a few sloughs have protected Harbor Light, New Jersey, from being metastasized by neighboring Atlantic City. But those natural barriers weren't enough to keep out Bargain Acres, a mega-mart that sucked the life out of the Main Street patrolled by handsome football-hero-turned-sheriff Albert LaRosa. Albert's life took a really rough turn when he was a young cop in Philadelphia, and he's been lying low, licking his wounds on the largely no-problem island where he was born nearly 50 years ago. He drinks too much, smokes, and has failed to do right by Rickie, the beautiful, hotheaded, redhead rebel turned restaurateur he's loved since high school, even when he was married to somebody else. But Albert's finally catching a big break. Oscar Price, proprietor of a big Atlantic City casino, has just taken the sheriff for his first-ever Ferrari ride and made him a sweet offer: He'll pay Albert double his current salary to be head of security at the casino he expects to install in town. Sure, a few gambling laws will need to be changed, a causeway put in, the bit of local commerce that's hung on will be steamrolled, and an unspoiled village will be history. But there'll be jobs aplenty dealing blackjack, and won't that be great? No, say Rickie, her moody son Jack, Albert's hotheaded hardware-dealer father, and most of the rest of his friends. Before Albert can change their minds, Price's Ferrari explodes and Bargain Acres goesup in flames. Twice. And so does the affair with Rickie. As Albert sifts through clues, a lovely future fades. Richard Ford with a sense of humor.
From the Publisher

"Richly knowing, very funny."—The Washington Post
"With The Sunday Macaroni Club, Steve Lopez joins the Carl Hiassen club."
The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Does for machine politics what Elmore Leonard's works do for organized crime . . . Lopez has served up a fast, telling, hilarious plateful."—People

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.33(w) x 7.09(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
"I can't arrest him, Pop. It's not a crime to sell wholesale."
"The way they do it, it should be. It's immoral, so it should be illegal."
"And how's that?"
"They buy a load of crap, and then undercut me on price. You see this hammer in my hand, son? It'll last you until you're my age."
"It looks like the same hammer Bargain Acres sells for two dollars less."
"The fact that you can say that, Albert, just shows."
"Shows what?"
"That you should build something from time to time, so you'd know the difference between a quality tool and a piece of junk."
"Pop, I really gotta go. Anyway, I think I might have heard this speech before."
"They're destroying our way of life, Albert. They're destroying this town, and somebody should bring them to justice."
"You're right, Pop. I'll get on my radio right away and notify the FBI. See you later."
"And you call yourself a cop? Dinner on Friday, don't forget. And bring Rickie, so I can talk to somebody who understands we can't let these bastards get away with this."
Outside Albert's office, a silver Ferrari coupe sharked in alongside the rusted-out truck from Manny's Bait Bucket and Oscar Price stepped out in a thousand-dollar suit. Albert, with twenty-eight years of law enforcement training, suspected he wasn't here to buy worms. He closed the newspaper, stubbed out his cigar, and asked himself the obvious question. What business would a billionaire casino mogul have with the Harbor County Sheriff's Department?
"Excuse me, sir," Georgianna brayed into the intercom, "but Mr. Price from the casino is out here. He has no appointment."
"I think we can squeeze him in, Georgianna. Send him on back."
Georgianna sat just on the other side of the coatroom. They were no more than twelve feet apart, and if he leaned forward he could see her stationed behind that PT boat of a desk, looking for all the world like Ernest Borgnine in a wig. But she had always considered it more professional to buzz him on the intercom than to simply call out to him. The coatroom, with a sofa that smelled like it had once been a nesting ground for some unspecified form of wildlife, separated Albert's office from the reception area. He was grateful that Harlan Wayans, who passed out on that sofa two or three times a week after leaving Mo's Tavern, hadn't stumbled in yet for his nap. Albert glanced around his cluttered office, wishing it were a little more professional-looking. But how often did he have this kind of company?
"Sheriff LaRosa, good to see you," Oscar Price chirped, extending a hand that folded into nothing when Albert took hold of it. Albert grabbed a folding chair with Knights of Columbus stenciled onto it, flicking off a pile of fishing and boating magazines. They thudded onto the AstroTurf carpeting-still there from the days when this office and the two adjoining ones were part of an indoor Putt-Putt golf course that ultimately tanked-and raised a small cloud of dust that both of them noticed.
Price wore a navy blue double-breasted with a crisp shirt that was so white Albert feared retinal damage. He was coming up on sixty, BB-eyed and birdlike, with thinning light brown hair cut short and spiky. Every time Albert saw him he was reminded of quail-hunting trips he and Creed James had taken in the Pine Barrens as boys.
"Can I get you some coffee?" Albert asked, raising his own cup, which bore the name of an Atlantic City bail bondsman.
"You don't happen to have tea," Price said.
"Can't say that I do," Albert said flatly. What was he running, a cafeteria? He offered a cigarette-size cigar, which Price declined politely. "You mind?" Albert asked, lighting one for himself. Albert recalled seeing him in khakis and a work shirt on Cannery Way a time or two over the last couple of months, flitting in and out of shops like he was just another local yokel. Albert couldn't remember ever seeing him in civvies otherwise, doing nonbillionaire things like running errands and breathing the same air as the local fish eaters.
Price took in the room as if something about it surprised him. Maybe it was the cache of deadly assault weapons Albert had confiscated over the years: kitchen knives, lamps, flowerpots, shoes, cookware of every type, all tossed into the cubbyhole shelving Albert snagged from the second-grade classroom when Lighthouse Primary closed. Another curiosity was the eight-foot-square holding cell back in the corner. Albert took a Polaroid of everyone who'd spent time in there, and pushpinned the photos to the back wall.
"I didn't realize you detained people here," Price said.
"We're full-service. They call the job resident deputy," Albert said. "It's sort of like having my own sheriff's department."
Oscar Price looked genuinely interested in that little piece of information, which made Albert all the more curious about what he was doing here. He had better things to do than come hear the history of a one-man cop shop. Maybe he was here to complain about the trespassers again. Price had bought the old Sisters of Mercy retreat house at the southeast corner of the island a few years ago and poured millions into it, turning the place into a seaside villa that made the cover of one of those dental office magazines. Price had called once about people schlepping right past the Private Beach signs, like there was something Albert could do about it if he didn't catch them in the act. But Price didn't look like someone who was going to tell him how to do his job, a look Albert had seen a few times, and the few hundred bucks Albert had on Evolution's line of credit wouldn't buy the silk tie Price was wearing, so he couldn't be here to collect. "So tell me," Price said. "How long exactly have you been here?"
Albert looked out to the marina, where a forty-footer was chugging in with a catch of flounder or maybe bluefish. "Feels like about a hundred fifty years," he said. "I've never lived anywhere else except a few years in Philadelphia."

Copyright © 2002 by Steve Lopez

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Meet the Author

Steve Lopez is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of two previous novels, The Sunday Macaroni Club and Third and Indiana. He has been an editor-at-large for Time magazine and has also written for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He lives in Los Angeles.

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