Check out Honest Jim’s review of Rich Zahradnik’s award-winning Coleridge Taylor mystery, Lights Out Summer:
One of the great things about a Rich Zahradnik novel is his masterful ability to plunge the reader into the New York City of the 1970s while telling a nail-biting tale of mystery and suspense.
In the author’s hands, New York becomes a character unto itself — bankrupt, broken, violent and as proud as a battered heavyweight on the downhill slide from a championship belt.
No sepia-toned nostalgia here. Just a deft recreation of a time and place before cell phones, laptops, tablets and virtual reality and all the other modern madness that turn the mind into mush.
In his Shamus-winning fourth Coleridge Taylor mystery, LIGHTS OUT SUMMER, the time is 1977, on the cusp of a summer of terror and fear caused by the Son of Sam and his .44 caliber killing spree. Newspapers were still mighty then and the serial murders trigger a full-blown tabloid war of screaming headlines that pump up the panic.
Zahradnik’s dogged protagonist, reporter Coleridge Taylor, is desperate to leave his ragtag city news service and get back to the ink-stained big leagues. But only on his own terms because the man is a righteous journalist and an obsessive iconoclast.
He’s also a lone wolf who knows he can’t compete with the pack chasing the Son of Sam story. Instead, he pursues the story of a young black woman murdered in the hallway of her apartment building while taking out the trash.
Flanked by his ex-cop girlfriend, Samantha, Taylor plunges down a lethal rabbit hole where an array of suspects await, including the victim’s drug-addict sister; the sister’s drug-dealing, hitman boyfriend; the gun thugs of a shadowy provider of vices to the rich and famous known only as The Concierge; and, the members of the rich family that employed the victim as a house servant.
Along the way, there are cameo appearances by the glitterati of Studio 54 and the columns of Jimmy Breslin, conducting an open correspondence with Son of Sam. New York also takes center stage in a far more powerful fashion — a blackout that results in rioting, looting and killing that serve as marked contrast to the New York of helpful neighbors during the blackout of 1965.
As always, Taylor gets smacked around quite a bit as he keeps sticking his nose where people don’t think it belongs. Those people include cops, gun thugs and, ultimately, the killer. Taylor knows he’s no stone-fisted tough guy, but is brave enough to take these beatings and still pursue the truth.
This is a taut, fast-paced story, a page-turner that ends way too soon. Go ahead — take a ride with Coleridge Taylor along the trash-strewn streets of a New York that’s gone but vividly restored in the mind’s eye.
Jim Nesbitt is the author of three hard-boiled Texas crime thrillers that feature Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch, a cashiered homicide detective — THE BEST LOUSY CHOICE, THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER and THE LAST SECOND CHANCE. His website is: https://jimnesbittbooks.com