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Absent Friends

Absent Friends

2.6 6
by S. J. Rozan

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The secrets of a group of childhood friends unravel in this haunting thriller by Edgar Award winner S. J. Rozan. Set in New York in the unforgettable aftermath of September 11, Absent Friends brilliantly captures a time and place unlike any other, as it winds through the wounded streets of New York and Staten Island...and into a maze of old crimes, damaged


The secrets of a group of childhood friends unravel in this haunting thriller by Edgar Award winner S. J. Rozan. Set in New York in the unforgettable aftermath of September 11, Absent Friends brilliantly captures a time and place unlike any other, as it winds through the wounded streets of New York and Staten Island...and into a maze of old crimes, damaged lives, and heartbreaking revelations. The result is not only an electrifying mystery and a riveting piece of storytelling but an elegiac novel that powerfully explores a world changed forever on a clear September morning.

In a novel that will catch you off guard at every turn, and one that is guaranteed to become a classic, S. J. Rozan masterfully ratchets up the tension one revelation at a time as she dares you to ponder the bonds of friendship, the meaning of truth, and the stuff of heroism.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Many years from now when your children ask what New York City was like just after 9/11, this will be the book you give them in response. It's an exquisite novel full of heart, soul, passion and intelligence, and it's the one this great New York author was born to write." —Lee Child

"The best contemporary novels create context for shared experiences that somehow remain unfathomable. Full of surprises from page one, Absent Friends is one of those—S.J. Rozan has written an ambitious, solemn, and ultimately hopeful book that shouldn't be missed." —Stephen White

"S.J. Rozan is, hands-down, one of my favorite crime writers working today. To read her is to experience the kind of pure pleasure that only a master can deliver."—Dennis Lehane

"Rozan has you looking over your shoulder into the dark."—Michael Connelly

"S.J. Rozan has written the most consistently compelling series of traditional detective novels published in this decade. Now is the time to discover what Rozan's loyal readership has known all along." —George Pelecanos

"Okay, listen up: This woman can write!"—Robert Crais

"A riveting offering reminiscent of Dennis Lehane's Mystic River ... unforgettable."—Booklist, starred review

"Rozan is a wonderful and insightful writer, and she creates an intricate, intimate portrait of a group of 40-something New Yorkers coping with a city in ruins."—Publishers Weekly, starred review 

"Absent Friends is a meditation on love, loss and enduring friendships as filtered through the shattering aftermath of 9/11. ... Without question one of the year's standout novels."—Baltimore Sun

"Absent Friends is a look at the nature of heroes, friendship, truth and self-knowledge..... The final chapter is richly heartbreaking and awe-inspiring."—Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"Rozan, who has won all the crime-genre awards for her Bill Smith/Lydia Chin detective titles, breaks away from that series with a novel that could stand proudly beside those of the masters, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos."—New York Daily News

"The story revolves around four boys and three girls— their childhoods, myriad backgrounds and families—and the men and women they become.... Rozan delivers a rich, sophisticated view of New Yorkers whose lives, like so many others, were so vastly changed on that September morning."—Newport News Daily Press

"Add S.J. Rozan to the list of artists and writers addressing the legacy of 9/11. Her ambitious Absent Friends uses that event as the backdrop for a heartbreaking story about secrets, loyalty and our primal need for heroes."—Seattle Times

Edgar winner S. J. Rozan sets Absent Friends in the treacherous shadows of September 11th. A group of childhood friends cluster in the tragedy's aftermath, attempting to reconstruct their lives at the moment they are most vulnerable. A haunting thriller unlike any other.
Publishers Weekly
New York City Fire Capt. James McCaffery is a hero to everyone who knew him, and many who didn't, even before his death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of that awful day, "New York needs heroes," as one character puts it. So it's particularly upsetting to the people McCaffery grew up with on Staten Island when a newspaper reporter suggests he may have been linked to organized crime and a shooting that happened exactly 22 years earlier. On September 11, 1979, Mark Keegan, a childhood friend of McCaffery's and most of the other characters in this rich, beautifully written book, killed a local mob boss's stepson allegedly in self-defense and later died in prison. Ever since, someone has been financially supporting Keegan's wife and young son, Kevin. The benefactor turns out to be McCaffery, but why? And where did the money come from? Rozan is a wonderful and insightful writer, and she creates an intricate, intimate portrait of a group of 40-something New Yorkers coping with a city in ruins. But the small mystery of Mark Keegan and Jimmy McCaffery cannot help paling in comparison to the larger evil perpetrated on 9/11, and the scope of the author's canvas multiple perspectives and far too many flashbacks makes the story more convoluted than it deserves to be. Nonetheless, the book powerfully articulates the mix of heartbreak, anger, helplessness and resolve of New Yorkers after 9/11. Agent, Steve Axelrod. (Oct. 5) Forecast: The winner of Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Shamus awards, Rozan is the author of Winter and Night (2002) and other titles in her Bill Smith/Lydia Chin mystery series. With blurbs from Dennis Lehane and Lee Child, this strong stand-alone should help break her out as a mainstream crime writer. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In a break from her popular Lydia Chin-Bill Smith mystery series (Winter and Night), Rozan grapples with the aftermath of 9/11 as it affects a group of longtime friends. Fire Capt. Jimmy McCaffery had died a hero, evacuating people from the World Trade Center. But his postmortem reputation is tarnished when reporter Harry Randall accuses him in a newspaper article of using a mob connection to funnel money to the wife and child of his best friend, Markie Keegan, after Markie's death in prison. Shortly after the article appears, Randall jumps off a bridge, motivating his lover and fellow reporter Laura Stone to prove that it was not suicide but murder. A well-told suspenseful tale with fully developed characters, Rozan's first standalone is also a haunting examination of the nature of friendship, truth, and heroism. Highly recommended for all general fiction collections. [See interview with Rozan, LJ 4/1/04, p. 39; see Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04.] Michelle Foyt, Russell Lib., Middletown, CT Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After eight mysteries mining the complicated relationship between private eyes Lydia Chin and Bill Smith (the Edgar-winning Winter and Night, 2002, etc.), Rozan makes her crossover bid with an ambitious study of a 9/11 hero's clay feet. First in, last out was the rule for firefighting Capt. James McCaffery, who true to his own longstanding form perished on the 44th floor of the World Trade Center while struggling to help still more of the wounded to safety. But was Jimmy McCaffery really a hero in his private life? Burned-out New York Tribune reporter Harry Randall says he wasn't in a series of articles terminated by his plunge from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Everybody accepts the obvious explanation of suicide except Laura Stone, Harry's protegee and lover, who vows to continue his investigation of why the McCaffery Memorial Fund, headed by Jimmy's old friend Marian Gallagher, refused a $50,000 contribution from reputed mobster Eddie Spano, another figure from Jimmy's childhood. After a masterfully rapid exposition, Laura's inquiries, bolstered by dozens of moving flashbacks, move crabwise from the Trade Center bombing to focus on the 1979 shooting of Jimmy's friend Jack Molloy by still another friend, Mark Keegan, who was killed in prison a few months after confessing, leaving behind a son who'd grow up to be a firefighter wounded on 9/11. What did the papers Harry claimed Jimmy had left behind reveal about that fatal episode, and what does the troubled past of Jimmy's childhood circle have to do with the historic moment that revealed Jimmy as both heroic and corrupt?The connections, in fact, are unsurprising and anticlimactic, especially after the long buildup. But Rozan pulls off agroup portrait that's both grandly scaled and painfully intimate. It's a pleasure to see all the stuff she's been hoarding over those ten years with her p.i. duo.

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Random House Publishing Group
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6.01(w) x 9.01(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

Boys' Own Book
Chapter One

Secrets No One Knew

July 4, 1976

Four boys, three girls, high and soaring, skin sizzling, tingling under the dizzying stars. Everything open and opening: the ragtop to the sky, the sky endlessly to the huge summer night. This night to their limitless lives.

Everything opening: In the black sky tight bright bursts eclipse the luminous moon, explode as fiery streaks, fountains of scarlet, rockets of silver, purple blooms and sprays of green. On the radio rising swells of tinny music; from the car shouts and applause.

Everything opening: the girls to the boys, not for the first time, but with a new, laughing heat. The boys to each other, grunts and shrugs and grins their fiercely sworn oaths, beer cans their glittering tokens of fealty.

Everything, everything opening: surprisingly, newly, the boys to the girls.

The boys? One is quiet, and one sure; one eager; and one flying, as always, too near the sun. The girls are royalty to these boys, have been since their memories began; and now, as the boys turn into men, the girls are knowing, wise, and real to them in ways they are not yet to themselves.

All would tell you.

And on this patriotic night, this celebration of association, when people all around them are reveling in the sheer staggering luck of being born into the community they would most want to be part of—what are they feeling, these boys and girls? Not fear, not on a night like this, when together they could conquer invading intergalactic armies, with grace and ease they could defeat rock-blind, howling swamp men burning with destruction. Not fear, but the hope of an anchor. The need for each other's weight in the whirlwind. "You Are Here" marked on a mental map. One of the boys leaving in the morning, everyone else to stay. All have been told by men and women, older and more tired, that the marked spot shrinks to nothing, that no ballast can hold, that the buoy above the anchor disappears in the bobbling waves.

Not one of the seven believes it.

It can be said that here the story begins, though it has been going on for some time. No story has a true beginning, and none has an ending, either.


From the New York Tribune, October 16, 2001



by Harry Randall

Third in a Series of Profiles of the Lost Heroes of September 11

Note to readers: September 11 produced countless heroes. Many are still with us; others perished. Some final acts of bravery and sacrifice will never be known. The New York Tribune joins a grateful city in saluting all our unsung heroes.

There are others among the lost whose final deeds stand out in memory. In this series the Tribune profiles some of these heroes, as a testimony to their courage and to the character and pride of all New Yorkers.

"First in, last out."

With these words, spoken by a surviving member of Ladder Co. 62, Capt. James McCaffery was eulogized before a crowd of 2,500 at a memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Monday, October 15. McCaffery, 46, one of the most decorated firefighters in the history of the New York City Fire Department and the focus of a memorial fund, was remembered by speakers including the Mayor, the Fire Commissioner, the Governor's Chief of Staff, and firefighters who had served with McCaffery or under his command. Firefighters from nearly every state in the union stood shoulder to shoulder in the cathedral aisles, ceding the pews to members of the FDNY and to McCaffery's family and friends.

Because of his long and distinguished career—and, paradoxically, his lifelong distaste for publicity—James McCaffery's story has captured the imagination, and the hearts, of New Yorkers. He has been cited as a example of the courage and character of the FDNY on the day of the worst terrorist attacks in American history.

Ladder 62, housed in a landmark firehouse on West 11th Street, was one of the first companies to respond to reports that a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, arriving at the scene minutes before the second plane struck. Multiple accounts from survivors credit McCaffery's organization of their evacuation with saving hundreds of lives. Repeatedly noted was McCaffery's "calm, in-control" demeanor and a sense he conveyed that "the situation was in hand." More than one survivor spoke of McCaffery's smile. "He didn't say anything," said Baz Woods, a law firm clerk. "But he made me feel like things weren't so bad. Like someone was in charge."

"That was definitely Jimmy," Thomas Molloy, a prominent Staten Island businessman, childhood friend of McCaffery's, and founder of the McCaffery Memorial Fund, told the Tribune. "You always knew Jimmy could take care of things."

James McCaffery grew up in the Pleasant Hills neighborhood on Staten Island. He left over two decades ago but is still regarded as a local hero.

"Oh, no question," said Father Dennis Connor, pastor of St. Ann's Church in Pleasant Hills. "Through all these years, we'd read in the papers about him, some brave thing he'd done, and we'd all be thinking, that's our Jimmy."

James McCaffery always wanted to be a firefighter. "He had a red plastic helmet someone gave him when he was three," said Mr. Molloy's ex-wife, Victoria. "He wore it all the time. When it got too small, he still kept squashing it on. His father had to buy him another one."

McCaffery is remembered as a quiet boy who captained the varsity baseball team at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School. "Jimmy never talked much," said Mike Pidhirny, retired head coach. "I never remember him riding anyone. It all went into his game. Jimmy expected a lot from himself, and he made the other guys want to give as much as he did. We made the play-offs every season he played. We won two division titles."

McCaffery entered the FDNY Academy in 1976 at the age of 21. His first assignment was to Engine 168, in Pleasant Hills.

"We watched him grow up," recalled Owen McCardle, a firefighter retired from Engine 168, who has been digging at Ground Zero since September 11. "Used to come around all the time when he was a kid, try to help out, wash down the truck, stuff like that. Did well at the Academy. Could have got assigned anywhere, put in for here. Once he was in, we couldn't shake him. Go out on a run, come back and this probie, not even on duty but he's frying up bacon, ready to scramble eggs."

In a move that surprised people in Pleasant Hills, McCaffery applied for a transfer in 1980 and was assigned to Ladder 10 in Manhattan. He moved to a Greenwich Village apartment near his new firehouse and never returned to live or work on Staten Island.

"He lost two friends within a year," said Marian Gallagher, the director of the More Art, New York! Foundation. Ms. Gallagher grew up with McCaffery and now heads the McCaffery Memorial Fund, whose mission is to aid the FDNY's outreach and recruitment efforts. "I think he just felt a need to start over. But he never forgot where he came from. One of the friends who died left a son. Jimmy helped raise him."

"Definitely, I joined the Department because of Uncle Jimmy," said Kevin Keegan, 24, the son of Mark Keegan, a close childhood friend of McCaffery's who died at the age of 23. Kevin Keegan is a probationary firefighter at Engine 168 who had been on the job just three months on September 11. His right leg and arm were badly burned by falling debris as he and other firefighters prepared to enter the north tower. Keegan is currently in rehabilitation at the Burke Center in Westchester. "Uncle Jimmy was there the whole time I was growing up," Keegan continued. "If I was in trouble, or had a problem or something, he'd be on the phone, he'd show up at our door. I could count on him."

Keegan, the Tribune has learned, is the beneficiary of Captain McCaffery's FDNY life insurance policy. "That's Jimmy. Still taking care of us," said Keegan's mother, Sally. "No matter where he was, Kevin and I could always go to Jimmy."

After Ladder 10, McCaffery served with Engine 235 in Brooklyn and then in three other Manhattan companies, including three years with Rescue Co. 1, before being given the command of Ladder Co. 62. From his probationary days at Engine 168, McCaffery's fearlessness stood out. "He wasn't reckless," said his mentor, Owen McCardle. "Jimmy never made a move until he took the situation in. But sometimes we had to pull him back all the same. One thing you learn on this job: sometimes you have to let something burn. Let something go to save something else. Jimmy never wanted to believe that. Superman, we called him. Save everyone, that's what Jimmy wanted."

In a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from 1984, McCaffery is in midair, leaping the gap from one rooftop to another, silhouetted against smoke and flame. Another picture, taken in 1988, shows him being lowered on a rope to rescue a baby held out the window of a burning third-floor apartment. McCaffery brought the baby up and was lowered a second time to save the mother. He tied the rope around her, signaled firefighters to pull her up, then disappeared into the building in search of another child. He found her crouching in a closet with the family cat. As the fire went to three alarms, McCaffery staggered from the building, ankle badly twisted and with bloody parallel lines of scratches on his face and hands. EMS workers rushed forward and took from him a blanket-wrapped, unhurt child clutching her terrified cat.

There are other stories: a dive into the Hudson in a rainstorm to pull a man from a sinking boat. Using his turnout coat to smother the flames on a man whose clothes were burning. Many stories. And after each act of heroism, James McCaffery—most often smiling widely—thanked well-wishers, returned to his firehouse, and refused all requests for interviews.

Three times McCaffery was admitted to NYU Medical Center, twice to the Burn Unit, with injuries that would have made him eligible for retirement. Each time he was back on the job within months. FDNY Assistant Chief Aleck Wagman acknowledges McCaffery to have been a source of "institutional knowledge." "Men were anxious to serve under him. Not just the new guys, everyone. Anyone could learn something from Jimmy. He'll be badly missed."

"At the other houses he worked, he wouldn't let them call him Superman," Owen McCardle recalls. "Like it embarrassed him. But tell you the truth, it was always who he wanted to be."

McCaffery lived alone in a small, spare apartment on West 12th Street and never married. "The Job was his family," said Ted Fitzgerald, retired captain of Engine 235. "There's always guys like that, every generation. They're the backbone of this Department, and on 9/11 we lost way too many of them."

McCaffery's heroism on September 11 is by now legendary. Elizabeth Murray, an attorney, made the trip down 28 flights of stairs with others from her firm. Murray, her firm's fire warden, was among the last to evacuate her floor. She spoke of McCaffery's "swift and total" understanding of the tragedy. "There was fire on our floor from the elevator shaft. People were burned, and some had been hit by debris that exploded out when the doors blew open. There was a lot of smoke, and we were cut off from our stairs." The men of Ladder 62 directed the crowds away from the fire to an open stairwell, assisting the injured and, in the words of another survivor, "defusing the hysteria, everyone screaming and running around."

"He seemed to know exactly how much time we had to get out," Murray said of Captain McCaffery. "He said if we didn't panic, we'd be all right. He could have come out with us. We just barely made it. I really think he knew that the tower was going to come down. None of us remotely thought it would, at that time."

McCaffery was last seen by Murray heading another way. "He went up," she said. "He told his men, 'Get control of this, take these people out of here.' He meant the panic, the confusion. Then he looked around, like he was taking it all in. He said something like 'The job's up there.' One of the others, another firefighter, said, 'If you're going, Captain, I'm going with you.' Some of them went." Murray's eyes filled with tears. "He was smiling when he pulled open that staircase door. I'll never forget it. All the way down, I wondered what made him smile like that. I remember thinking, Well, when this is over, I'll look him up and ask him."

Deputy Chief Gino Aiello was at the north tower command station when the evacuation order was issued. "Some of the companies didn't respond," Aiello said in an interview. "A lot of the radios were out, so we don't know if they got the order. But Ladder 62 heard us. Captain McCaffery responded. He was on 44. He said he had injured up there, and he was bringing them out. He had three men with him. 'We'll be down as soon as we can, Chief. There's a lot of injured.' That's what he said. I don't know how he was planning to bring a lot of injured down 44 flights with three men, but if anyone could talk the injured into getting up and walking—the injured, maybe even the dead—it was Jimmy McCaffery."

Ladder 62 lost four men that day. Funerals and memorial services for the other three firefighters have already been held. "This is how Jimmy would have wanted it," Owen McCardle said. "He would have expected the other men to be taken care of first. He was their captain. First in, last out."


Boys' Own Book
Chapter Two

Abraham Lincoln and the Pig

October 30, 1968

Eleven years old: Four boys, three girls, and they weave through each other's lives the same as through the open doors of the houses up and down the street. These kids know one another the way they know these blocks, the trees and sidewalks and everyone's backyard. Jimmy can't remember—no one remembers—a time when the other ones weren't there.

When they were little, their moms brought them to the park or to each other's houses; on Saturday their dads took the whole bunch to the beach, to the zoo. It's different now that they're bigger, now that they go to school: Jimmy—with Markie, Marian, Sally, Vicky—is at PS 12; and the Molloys, Tom and Jack, go to St. Ann's, study with the nuns. It doesn't change who they are to each other; it's just, this way, some things about each other are stories, legends almost: only some of the kids see, but everyone knows.

Meet the Author

S. J. Rozan is the author of the acclaimed novel Absent Friends in addition to eight novels in the Edgar, Shamus, Nero, Macavity, and Anthony awards-winning Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series, including Winter and Night, which won the Edgar, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel, and was nominated for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry awards. Born and raised in the Bronx, Rozan is an architect in a New York firm and lives in Greenwich Village, where she is at work on her next novel of suspense.

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Absent Friends 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book at B&N from the bargain books table. What a find. I could not put it down. Plot, character and writing are top-notch. It's a mystery, a comment on 9/11 (without being maudlin) and an evocative story of close-knit friendship. Please buy this book if you can - it's worth it at any price.
harstan More than 1 year ago
NYC firefighter Captain James McCaffrey is one of the fallen heroes who died trying to save lives during the tragic collapse of the Twin Towers. James had a heroic history with the department before his death; however reporter Harry Randall paints a darker side of the fallen hero. He insists that two decades ago 9/11, James and his six Staten Island compatriots were involved and probably killed a stepson of a mob kingpin; one of them Mark went to prison................... The four survivors of the magnificent seven, two including Mark having died years ago, rally to protect their deceased childhood leader¿s reputation. The final foursome look back at what happened, but soon begin to wonder why James consistently and anonymously gave money to the family of Mark. Could James be paying off blackmail, guilt or could he be simply taking care of a friend?...................... The multiple perspectives, which include flashbacks and the thoughts when alive of individuals now dead, adds complexity, but makes it difficult to keep track of who thinks what of James. Still the backdrop of the aftermath of 9/11 on the City provides a fantastic thriller as the James-Mark relationship is shown up as a minor nothingness in comparison to the humongous tragedy. S.J. Rozan keeps the two outlooks apart so that the audience admires a heroic fallen first responder in a city reeling but already beginning to recover by 9/12. His allegedly dark past seems minuscule with his actions when people needed him. This is a strong look at the immediate post 9/11 Manhattan.............. Harriet Klausner
gettin_picky More than 1 year ago
I have to say this is the worst Rozan book I have read. It was slow and had unending repetition. I have loved all of her other books but this one was not worth my time or money. What a huge disappointment. 9/11 was devastating I'm not trying to down play that but she spent so much time talking about what people felt and how there were no cars and no phones and..... If it was only said once or even twice it would have been ok, but it was repeated so many times. I probably only read 1/2 of the last half of the book. I had it all figured out before I had finished half the book and I would have had it sooner if not for all the extra descriptions she usually doesn't do. I say check it out of the library if you still feel compelled to read it... don't waste your money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
slatsdawson More than 1 year ago
This book is for a Manhattanite. There are too many characters in the book and too many references to concepts you wouldn't appreciate unless you were in the area at the time.