The Lightning Ruleby Brett Ellen Block
They say lightning never strikes the same spot twice. Detective Martin Emmett is about to prove the exception to the rule. It is the summer of 1967 and a heat wave is bringing Newark, New Jersey's simmering racial tensions to a boiling point. Banished to desk duty, his career on the line, Emmett is offered a chance at professional redemption if he can quickly and
They say lightning never strikes the same spot twice. Detective Martin Emmett is about to prove the exception to the rule. It is the summer of 1967 and a heat wave is bringing Newark, New Jersey's simmering racial tensions to a boiling point. Banished to desk duty, his career on the line, Emmett is offered a chance at professional redemption if he can quickly and quietly solve the murder of a black teenage boy whose mutilated body has been found in a subway tunnel. But Emmett discovers that the teen is a victim of a sadistic predator who abducts boys to use as prey in a twisted game of cat and mouse. While the riots engulf Newark, crippling the city with chaos, Emmett must track down the killer before the next hunt begins.
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The Lightning RuleA Novel
By Brett Block
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Brett Block
All right reserved.
July 12, 1967
The basement was where the dead were kept. The murder victims, accidental deaths, and suicides were on the top shelves. Next down were abductions followed by arsons, assaults, then auto thefts. Below were burglaries and robberies, filling tier after tier. Vice charges were at the bottom. Solved or unsolved, every case died with the passing of time. Their final resting place was the Records Room of Newark's Fourth Precinct.
Rows of manila files lined the labyrinth of shelves, like a library that carried thousands of copies of the same book. Due to the dampness of being underground, the folders had a tendency to rot at the edges, giving off a peculiar odor of decay. Some cops called the basement the "paper graveyard." Detective Martin Emmett called it his office.
He had a corner to himself with a metal desk, a chair, a lamp, and a telephone, not much more. There were no windows. He had gotten used to that. What Emmett couldn't get accustomed to was the silence. The basement spanned the breadth of the police station, a quarter of a city block, and the absence of noise echoed around the aisles. Emmett tried a radio, but couldn't get any reception, so he brought a windup clock from home and left it in the desk drawer. The muted ticking chipped away at the quiet, though it was almost as maddening.
TheFourth Precinct wasn't the city's largest, however it handled the heaviest caseloads and the highest volume of reports. Once a case was closed or over three months cold, it was sent to the Records Room to be cataloged. That was Detective Emmett's new job. Oddly enough, being in the basement gave him a bird's-eye view of the goings-on at the station. No doubt his lieutenant realized that would happen when he assigned him the post. Emmett wondered whether that was part of the punishment.
In the two and a half months since he had become the station's unofficial undertaker, he learned not to shelve the reports too fast. Filing them took mere minutes, and his shift was eight hours long. He would be twiddling his thumbs by lunch if he didn't give himself something to do. Each day a few folders would trickle down, dropped off by cops happy to have cleared them or disgruntled at having a file hang open and having to admit defeat. Emmett understood how they felt. Putting a case to bed was better by far. For him, the worst was knowing he might not get the chance to close one of his own again.
Three cases had arrived that day: a purse snatching, a domestic assault, and a rash of bicycle thefts where somebody had taken a bolt cutter and snipped the chain links holding the locks. Ultimately, the mugger was never identified, the woman in the domestic refused to press charges against her boyfriend, and the bikes could not be recovered. Because the files had become as futile as the chains on the bicycles, the Records Room was where they would meet their end.
Emmett had read through each of them carefully, sifting through the paperwork to pass the hours. The woman whose pocketbook was grabbed while she waited at a bus stop on Irvine Turner Boulevard listed a nickel hidden in a pillbox among the stolen items. The coin had been given to her by her grandfather. It was the first wage he ever earned. The man responsible for the assault had hit his girlfriend with the frying pan she was cooking his breakfast in. He knocked out two of her teeth. Five of the seven bicycles stolen from the area surrounding the Stella Wright Housing Projects were red, the remainder blue. The details made the day go by. Details were what Emmett had in lieu of a real crime, a poor substitute under poor circumstances.
He waited until the end of his shift to shelve the files and took his time weaving through the stacks. All Emmett had was time, yet every second, he was running short. The case that had gotten him exiled to the Records Room would go on the top shelf in ten days, a plain manila folder indistinguishable from the other murders. He didn't need the ticking of his windup clock to remind him that the minutes were steadily slipping by.
"Hello? Anybody here?"
Emmett emerged from the stacks. A young patrolman was standing at the basement door. He was a smooth-faced kid straight out of high school, his collar overstarched, his pants khaki instead of blue, the distinguishing mark of a rookie recently accepted to the force. The pin above his breast pocket said his name was Nolan. At thirty-three, Emmett wasn't that much older than the patrolman, but the shine on the kid's shoes and the eagerness in his eyes made Emmett feel twice his age.
"I got orders to bring this to the Records Room," Nolan said, fidgeting with the report. "This is it, right?"
Emmett cast an obvious glance at the multitude of shelves. "Yeah, that's right."
Most officers would flop the folders onto his desktop without a word. Some wouldn't even make eye contact. Many openly shunned him. Emmett expected as much. Filing in the Records Room was a chore normally foisted on recruits such as Nolan, though not anymore. No one had passed along the gossip about Emmett, or else the kid would have dumped the case and hurried off. The rookie would appreciate his error once his buddies had ribbed him for it.
"Guess this is an easy racket for you," Nolan remarked, "what with you being so tall. Five bucks says you don't need a step stool to reach them tippy-top shelves."
Emmett stood a full head above the majority of cops on the force. Not a single officer in the Fourth Precinct could look down on him. That didn't mean they wouldn't act like they could.
Excerpted from The Lightning Rule by Brett Block Copyright © 2006 by Brett Block. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Brett Ellen Block received her undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of Michigan. She went on to earn graduate degrees at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the University of East Anglia's Fiction Writing Program in England. She won the Drue Heinz Literary Prize for her debut collection of short stories, Destination Known, and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. She is also the author of The Grave of God's Daughter. She lives in Los Angeles.
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In 1967 Newark, his boss does not trust rookie homicide cop Martin Emmett who he assumes is a quota appointment. His confidence in the newcomer is not made any better when Martin fails at his first case. He demeans Martin and hurts the youngster¿s already shaky confidence by exiling him to the records room. --- However, racial tension in the Central Ward is high so when a mutilated corpse of a black teen who worked for the mob is found with a missing a finger, Martin gets a second chance to redeem himself as his boss needs to send a black man to investigate. As riots explode, Martin begins to find evidence that a serial killer is on the loose as a second battered body is found. However, racism, the brass, his peers, and the mob want him off the case even as the riots obfuscate supporting evidence. --- THE LIGHTNING RILE is a terrific historical police procedural starring a likable protagonist who enjoys investigations though he detests what he often finds. The 1967 Newark backdrop makes for a superb locale as Brett Ellen Block describes scenes and real events so vividly the audience will feel transported in time. Beside the superior pictorial background ambience and the strong official inquiry, Martin makes this one of the better sub-genre entries of the year as he cares and does his best in spite of opposition from everywhere. --- Harriet Klausner