"A tremendous talent."Lee Child
From award-winning author Suzanne Chazin comes a powerful novel of passion, bigotry, and murderous secrets in a homicide detective's picturesque hometown. . .
A body is found in a reservoir fifty miles north of New York City. The victim is young, female and Hispanic. In her purse, the police find a photograph of a baby they believe is her daughtera little girl they can't identify. Or find. Where is the child? Is she still alive? And what is the meaning behind the disturbing note in the woman's bag? "Go back to your country. You don't belong here."
Arriving at the scene is homicide detective Jimmy Vega, who spent the better part of his childhood in the area and still carries the scars. A Latino himself, Vega knows all too well how hard it can be for an outsider to fit into a close-knit place like Lake Holly. Even now, as a respected officer of the law, he has to watch his step in an investigation simmering with ethnic animosities and steeped in local gossip. Both challenged and intrigued by Adele Figueroaa passionate defender of immigrants' rights who reminds him uncomfortably of his own family's strugglesVega must rethink everything he believes to uncover long-buried truths about his community, his loved ones . . . and himself.
Filled with drama, mystery and raw emotions, Land of Careful Shadows shines a nuanced and timely light on a small town's darkest secrets and deepest obsessions. It is not only a tour de force of literary suspense, but an intimate journey into the human heart.
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Land of Careful Shadows
By Suzanne Chazin
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Suzanne Chazin
All rights reserved.
It was the Day-Glo orange basketball sneakers that nearly got him killed. Adidas adizeroes with EVA midsoles. A hundred dollars on sale. You could have picked him up on a satellite transmitter as he swung his legs out of the open door of his black Escalade to untie the laces.
"Stop right there, sir." The voice, full of sinew and muscle, didn't fit the freckle-faced altar boy in the police raincoat before him. "Step out of the car slowly and put your hands on the roof of your vehicle."
Jimmy Vega stopped untying the laces and pushed back his Yankees baseball cap. "Hey man, chill. I only pulled over because—"
"Sir? Get out of the car and put your hands on the roof of your vehicle."
It was the "sir" that got to him. The knife-thrust of the word. All that coiled aggression tricked out as politeness. And okay, maybe he looked suspicious in his dark hoodie, pulling up on the gravel shoulder of this wooded two-lane a few hundred yards from where the Lake Holly cops had just found a body. But did this rookie really think he'd put it there?
"Just give me a minute to change out of my sneakers." Vega slid a hand toward his back pocket. "Hey, if it makes you feel any better—"
That's when he heard the familiar rattle of plastic. A cheesy claptrap sound, totally out of sync with the smooth piece of hardware that produced it or the fresh-from-the-academy holster that cocooned it. Vega's hand shot out of his pocket like his jeans were on fire. The cop had his Glock nine millimeter pointed inches from Vega's chest.
"Out of the car! Now! Hands on your head!"
All the blood drained from Vega's extremities. His throat constricted. His bladder muscles developed amnesia. He was almost more embarrassed at the prospect of pissing his pants than at the prospect of getting shot. How odd that this little man-made contraption could so completely unmake a man.
He laced his fingers behind his head and willed his voice to stay calm by pretending he was still undercover, still behaving like somebody he wasn't.
"Okay, officer. Relax. I'm getting out of the car. My hands are locked behind my head." He stated the obvious because he felt he needed to, felt this guy needed all his senses relaying the same information if Vega was going to walk out of this in one piece. Stupid what runs through your head at a time like this. He hadn't finished his paperwork on last night's job. He had a lottery ticket in his wallet worth twenty dollars that he hadn't collected on yet. He was no more than half a mile from his daughter's house and she had no idea he was in Lake Holly, though maybe under these circumstances, it was best she didn't know.
He tried to sidestep a puddle but it ran the length of the driver's-side door. Cold, gritty water sloshed between his toes the moment his feet hit the ground. Rain slipped under the sleeves of his hoodie when he locked his hands behind his head. A few hundred feet east, a circus of emergency vehicles beat out a blood-red rhythm against the bare trees that stood in mute witness on either side of the road.
"So you don't panic, I've got a nine millimeter in the waistband of my jeans. My badge and ID are in my back right pocket." He supposed the rookie had already surmised the first part and never considered the possibility of the second or he wouldn't be in this mess. Something burned slow and deep. He thought he was past the stage where people judged him by the color of his skin or the cast of his features. He thought his line of work insulated him from that. But now, spread-eagled across the Escalade, he wondered if all he'd really done was get better at navigating people's prejudices. When he steered himself within the bounds of their assumptions, he managed to avoid the shoals and reefs that used to cut him so unexpectedly. When he didn't—well, here was the result.
A vacuum cleaner of a voice suddenly boomed over his shoulder. "He isn't that detective the county was supposed to send by any chance? Vega? James Vega?"
The young cop's voice faltered, the testosterone wavering as it sank in. "I thought—he looked—he didn't show me any ID—"
"You wouldn't give me five freakin' minutes to change out of my sneakers," hissed Vega. He felt safe enough to turn around and face the kid now. The cop's eyes, so full of suspicion a minute ago, now looked wild with panic and bewilderment. Vega studied the wavy brown lines that ran along the sides of his orange high-tops and shook his head. Water squished out of the fabric when he shifted his feet.
"I'll take my stuff back."
The cop held out his gun, keys, and ID without meeting his gaze. Vega waited for an apology. It didn't come. Not that it would have changed anything. But still.
"I'll take it from here, Fitz." The man with the vacuum cleaner voice casually stepped into view. He was a head taller than Vega, broad as a side of beef, with the put-upon look of a cop near retirement who felt he was not near enough. He was dressed head-to-toe in white Tyvek coveralls that made him look like a giant marshmallow. He held out a fleshy hand.
"Detective Lou Greco, Lake Holly PD." The detective dropped his chin and peered at Vega over the black rims of his glasses, beaded with rain. "I see you came dressed for the occasion."
"I didn't get the part that said 'black tie.'" Vega shoved his badge and keys into his pockets and returned his gun to his waistband. "I was up all night doing a meet-and-greet between a couple of heroin dealers and a rookie undercover. I didn't have time to change." His skin still felt coated in sweat and nicotine.
Greco nodded to Vega's sneakers. "You got another pair of shoes?"
"I was trying to switch into them when your local representative from the Aryan Brotherhood stopped me."
"You should have been clearer that you were a cop. Fitzgerald sees a gun under your hoodie at a crime scene, he's going to think the worst."
"Not that he was profiling or anything."
Greco ignored the dig. In his mind at least, the situation was already behind them when in fact Vega was just feeling the recoil. His fingers were only beginning to get back sensation. His bowels and bladder still felt temperamental. The back of his head throbbed as if he'd been cold-cocked. It would be hours before the flutter in his chest died away, weeks before the memory lost its primal hold on his senses. Still, what choice did he have except to move on? He had to work with these guys. He'd had to work with guys like Fitzgerald and Greco his whole career.
It might have been easier if being a cop had been a lifelong ambition. But the truth was, it just happened. One minute, he was the reluctant holder of an accounting degree (his mother's idea), planning for the day when he'd chuck it all for the wide-open road and his steel-string guitar. The next, he was out of work and in debt with a baby on the way. The county was recruiting Spanish-speaking officers. Vega needed a steady job with medical benefits. So he traded in his six-string for a nine millimeter and told himself he was doing for his kid what his old man had never done for him. There were worse reasons to give up on your dreams.
He sat in the Escalade and peeled off his high-tops and socks, tossing them onto the floor of the passenger side where they immediately formed their own ecosystem. He shoved his bare feet into black leather work boots.
"You don't have another pair of socks?"
"Nope." He had a pair of white crime-scene coveralls and booties that would keep him dry enough, and a button-down shirt and pants for later. But he hadn't anticipated his run-in with Fitzgerald.
"Gonna have blisters tomorrow," said Greco.
"Better than bullet holes."
Vega suited up and followed Greco down a path slick with mossy rocks and acorns. Through the bare branches, Vega could see the tin-colored reservoir for which this town fifty miles north of New York City was named. Back when he was a boy, the only things you could find in Lake Holly were the fan-tailed sun perch you could catch with a cheap rod and a loaf of Wonder Bread, the snapping turtles that sunned themselves on the broad, weather-beaten rocks, and the flakes of shale that if you threw just right, you could skim halfway to Bud Point.
Now unfortunately, you could find much, much more.
She was lying in a soupy mix of dead leaves and branches that had gathered in a pocket along the shoreline. If not for the reams of yellow police tape strung like parade garland or the dozen or so officers milling about in white coveralls, Vega might have assumed he was staring at an old picnic blanket. Its pattern, once distinct, was now brackish and covered in algae.
"Dog-walker called it in around o-seven-hundred this morning," said Greco. "Female. Been in the water for at least a few weeks is my guess. No obvious trauma to the body."
"You've ruled out drowning?"
"Duh. Give us townie cops some credit." Greco snapped on a pair of blue latex gloves and squatted before the victim. He edged up one sleeve of her jacket. The underside of the material showed some sort of black-and-silver snowflake pattern. Beneath the sleeve, a frayed, algae-covered rope encircled her skeletal wrist.
"She's got three more just like it—one on each limb. Don't think it's a fashion statement."
"Any indications whether she was dead going into the water?"
"The medical examiner will have to rule on that. The ropes are pretty thick. Three-strand nylon. She was tied down to something. Whoever tied her wanted her to stay a spell."
"Find any ID?"
"On her? Negative," said Greco. "But we found a handbag about thirty feet up the hill with a photograph in a zippered pocket. Forensics is gonna have to figure out if it's related, but I've got a feeling it's her. She's Hispanic, in case you're wondering."
"How can you tell?" A bumpy, gray-white film covered the victim's face. Both eye sockets were empty. Only a long, thin tuft of black hair remained on the back of her head like some ancient Chinese scribe.
"We played Ricky Martin and she danced."
"Better Ricky than Dean. I'd have tied the ropes myself."
Greco grinned. Puerto Ricans versus Italians. Cops never tired of ethnic jokes.
Vega pulled on a pair of gloves and bent down to examine the victim. She was lying on her side; her body bloated to perhaps twice its normal size, yet her jaw had receded, exposing an overbite. Her clothes had begun to fall apart but the zipper on her jacket still worked. Vega opened it to reveal the remains of what appeared to be a pink buttoned-down polyester blouse over blue jeans. No jewelry, though that may have been stripped. Her ankles had decayed much faster than her sneakers. The contoured soles sported the brand name Reebok. Vega could still make out the red racing stripes along the sides.
"The sneakers made me think jogger when I first saw her," said Greco. "We had that freak warm spell early last month. But the clothes are all wrong for it."
Vega had to agree. He exercised in whatever old T-shirts and gym shorts happened to be lying around. But his ex-wife and teenage daughter seemed to have whole wardrobes devoted to getting sweaty and none of it looked like this.
Vega shielded his eyes from the rain and searched out a thirty-foot overhang on the far side of the lake. The steady April drizzle had turned the rock face black.
"Guess it's safe to say, given the time of year and the ropes on her limbs, she didn't Bud out, either."
"You know about Bud Point?" asked Greco.
"Jumped off it, actually. At seventeen." After a few cold ones, if you hit the water just right, you became a legend. If not, you became a statistic.
Greco's jaw set to one side. "So were you suicidal, shit-faced—or just plain stupid?"
"I did it to impress a girl. Though I think I inspired more pity than awe that night."
Vega could still see himself at the edge of that cliff, his hair in an embarrassing mullet, dressed in discount-store jeans his mother—the only parent at his school with an accent—bought in one of her many excursions back to their old neighborhood in the Bronx. He didn't fit in at Lake Holly High. Not with all those fair-haired kids in Top-Siders and polo shirts. So he decided to stand out in some way he'd chosen, some way that wasn't thrust on him without his consent. When that girl batted her blond lashes and told him she didn't think he was brave enough to jump, he proved her wrong. If adolescence were a permanent state, the species would die out.
Greco wiped the rain off his glasses slowly and deliberately. Vega felt the grind of gears as he did the math. "I thought the closest this town got to Hispanic culture back then was watching reruns of I Love Lucy."
"I guess we were what you'd call, 'the tokens.'"
"Different place now, that's for sure. Whole town's crawling with 'em."
"I'm talking illegals, Vega. Not your people."
He said it the way Anglos often did—like there was a chasm of difference between the two groups when to Vega, the distinctions sometimes felt as porous as the paper that divided them. Maybe that's why the words stung so much. The acid couldn't help but leak through.
"Come on, Vega. Don't get all PC on me. You drove through town this morning. You had to have seen them."
He saw them. Of course he saw them. They were huddled in groups in front of the Laundromat and under the deli awning where Vega went to fetch his coffee. Their eyes were wary beneath the soaked brims of their baseball caps. Their shoulders were hunched, whether from rain or cold or fear, he didn't know. He felt their collective intake of breath when he walked by, the way their adrenaline seemed to hitch up a notch and their voices turned soft as prayers. They were like soldiers in a war zone, bracing for everything and nothing, all in the same instant.
"Are we discussing the latest census figures? Or does this conversation have a point?"
"Got something you should take a look at on the hill."
Greco led Vega up an embankment slick with mud. On the other side of a downed tree, two county crime-scene techs Vega knew were on their hands and knees, poking around a thicket of thorny barberry bushes. Greco picked up an evidence pouch beside one of them and handed it to Vega. It contained a red shoulder bag with two buckles across identical outer pockets. The vinyl had flaked off in places, exposing a whitish backing beneath.
"You haven't found a wallet, I take it?"
"No wallet, driver's license, cash, or ID," said Greco.
"Sounds like a robbery."
"Could be. The photograph was zipped into a small pocket. I don't think the person who tossed the bag even knew it was there."
Greco handed Vega another evidence bag containing the snapshot. A square-shouldered young woman with almond-shaped eyes was sitting on a sagging beige couch with an infant girl on her lap. Both the woman and child appeared to be Hispanic. The resolution was fuzzier than Vega would have liked, as if the woman had been bouncing the child on her knee when the photographer snapped the picture. Still, Vega could make out enough details that he would have been able to identify the woman if he'd known her. Her smile revealed two prominent front teeth that were slightly bucked. Around her neck, she wore a silver-colored crucifix with tiny bird wings dangling beneath each of Christ's bound arms.
"Never saw a crucifix with wings on it before," said Greco.
Vega thought about his own much simpler crucifix that his mother had given him when he got confirmed at Our Lady of Sorrows. He'd stopped wearing it after he married Wendy. Not that she'd asked him to. It just seemed hypocritical to pretend to a faith he had no connection to anymore. Looking at this photograph, however, he felt a sudden urge to dig that crucifix out of his dresser drawer and wear it, if only for the joy it would bring his mother.
But it wouldn't. Not anymore. Funny what you remember and what you can make yourself forget.
"If the crucifix doesn't turn up in the lake, we should check the state pawn registry," said Vega. "It's distinctive enough that we might get a hit if someone tries to hock it."
"We'll have better luck tracing the crucifix than we will tracing the kid," said Greco. "Even if the photograph's only a few months old, she'll be tough to identify."
The little girl in the photo had to be no more than about five or six months old. From the tender, possessive way the young woman held the child and the comfortable ease of the baby, Vega felt certain he was staring at a mother and daughter. The little girl was wearing a bright red velvet dress with silk white bows across the front. Her crown of shiny black hair was carefully combed and held back from her face by a headband with an enormous red bow. Gold posts glimmered from her earlobes. She gave the photographer an unfocused smile that could have been the result of familiarity, or the bouncing gyrations of her mother. The red velvet dress made Vega think the picture was taken around Christmas. He flipped the bag over to look for any markings on the photo.
"No date? No names? Nothing? This could have been taken anywhere."
"You got it," said Greco.
"At any time."
Excerpted from Land of Careful Shadows by Suzanne Chazin. Copyright © 2014 Suzanne Chazin. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I just finished reading LAND OF CAREFUL SHADOWS by the brilliant, relatively new, author Suzanne Chazin¿. I have now found another superb author to follow. Her characters are as real as in person flesh and blood. Her writing if fluid and descriptive without being flowery. The plot is rich and instantly engaging Suzanne Chazin¿ is added to my favorite author's list. Barb Ponter
This is an excellent read and would be great for book clubs looking for complex stories related to human and community relations. Took a chance on it and loved it. Kat
Good mystery, very interesting insights into our immigration problems--I recommend that our congressmen read this (they surely have time since they never seem to get anything done) and maybe they could see the human consequences of our broken immigration policies. The characters were three dimensional and the story was great--unexpected ending. This would made for a great book club choice.
Immigration is a well-worn theme in European police procedurals, but not so much so in America. In this one the plot is interesting and well-constructed, but it's the characterization that shines. Some of the characters have to give the occasional little sermon. That's okay. It's for a good cause, and the book is excellent.
When the body of an undocumented woman from Guatemala is found in the lake in a tonny area of Lake Holly, New York, Jimmy Vega, a Latino himself, is assigned to the case. Growing up in both Brooklyn and Lake Holly, Jimmy knows full-well how this case will be treated. What intensifies the plot is a photo of the woman with a small girl on her lap. When there is a small shoe found in the lake, the search is kicked up a notch. Who is this child and is she still alive? When an undocumented male is found to have had a relationship with the dead woman, he is immediately the suspect. Vega finds himself in between a rock and a hard place due to his sworn duty, but also because of his own heritage. As the story unfolds, he finds himself bucking the trend to stop the railroading of an innocent man, find a missing child and pushing for the truth, even if he does not like the outcome. This is a solid series and Chazin's characters have incredible depth. The relationships are hard to understand as they seem to have some loyalty, but there are so many questions. There are plenty of twists and turns with a highly-flawed protagonist. Vega is a complex character that I hope to get to know better as this series progresses. This was not an easy story to read or listen to. It was highly controversial with a plot that is timely and relevant. It touches on events such as racial profiling, immigration issues, police/civilian relations, and hate crimes. Chazin did an great job weaving together a multilayered crime amidst complex issues. The ending was totally unexpected, yet fit the story perfectly. I am looking forward to the next in this series.
So much more than 'just' a mystery! Land of Careful Shadows introduces homicide detective Jimmy Vega who returns to Lake Holly, a small town in NY state, where he spent a large part of his childhood to investigate the death of a young Hispanic woman who had a photo of a baby on her. Who is the woman? How did she die? And where is the child? With his Puerto Rican roots, Vega is no stranger to prejudice. As a police detective, he is now also facing distrust from the large Latino community in the town, many of whom are undocumented. On top of that, he is trying to remain in his teenage daughter's life after his divorce. The story doesn't just focus on Vega and the police investigation, though. At its heart, it provides a touching insight into the plight of undocumented immigrants. It was really interesting to read about the racial tension that had been building over several months and the experience of the different characters, the documented immigrants, the undocumented ones, the families made up of different cultures, such as Vegas and his ex-wife. You could tell the author is passionate about the subject, without being preachy or heavy on politics, and has researched her topic. Apart from being very topical and relevant, some of it was truly shocking and a real eye-opener. I admit I've learned a lot about immigration from this. But I also particularly enjoyed the way the author delved deeper and explored aspects of bi-cultural and bilingual identities. The multi-layered mystery aspect of the story was done pretty well, too. Some parts of it were predictable, and I was starting to wonder how it could take Vega that long to catch up with facts that were presented to him early on. Other parts were quite surprising and twisted enough to keep me fully engaged throughout. The one thing I found a little irritating was the fact that all white American females were described as skinny. Considering the author made a very valid point of emphasizing how diverse groups of people are even if they share some commonalities this sort of stereotyping just didn't fit in. Overall, though, this was a great story with some memorable characters and I intend to read the next books in this series. Many thanks to Kensington Books who provided me with a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I can’t wait to read the second book, A Blossom of Bright Light in the detective Jimmy Vega series by Suzanne Chazin. The Puerto Rican and other Latino characters come to life naturally as if Chazin grew up in Hispanic cultures. Her believable characters attract and sustain attention. Their depth and complexity enrich the story. Land of Careful Shadows is an engrossing page-turner without one dimensional fluff. Instead, Chazin peppers the narrative with sharp, clean and delightfully innovative descriptions that seamlessly propel the action forward to the gratifying surprise ending.
5 stars! Book one in Suzanne Chazin's new series! Jimmy Vega is a county police homicide detective called in to aid the local detective with mysterious death in a small northern New York town of Lake Holly that has already had its share of uncharacteristic incidents of late. The investigation turns in many directions involving characters struggling with their own conflicting circumstances, one being Jimmy himself. Having spent is teenage years on Lake Holly Jimmy must now place his loyalties to his job above all else. Gripping and intense, a read that won't allow itself to be put down even after it is complete!
Characters I could care about),which, I think, is as important as the actual plot. Glad to know that Jimmy Vega lives on!