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Hells Reunion by Richard Sand

Deen Kogan
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

There must be something in the Philadelphia water that's produced this exemplary crop of contemporary crime fiction practitioners.

Hell's Reunion

Publisher: Durban House
Subtitle: (Lucas Rook Mysteries)
Author: Richard Sand
Price: $15.95
Length: 200
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 1930754965
US publication date: 2006-11

Hell's Reunion is a Lucas Rook mystery by Philadelphia lawyer Richard Sand, and if you read crime fiction and haven't made Rook's acquaintance, it's time you did so. This New York ex-cop turned private investigator is making his third series appearance in what may be one of the best-kept secrets in the contemporary hard-boiled genre.

Lucas Rook debuted in Private Justice. This first novel in the series won the Publishers Marketing Association's Ben Franklin Award for mystery of the year. It was followed by Watchman With a Hundred Eyes. However, as a novel, Hell's Reunion stands on its own.

Rook isn't your everyday, run-of-the-mill PI. He deals with personal issues that seem to have no foreseeable resolution: the welfare of his partner and mentor now in Alzheimer's darkness and diapers, a fragmented personal relationship and, perhaps primary, the death of his twin brother, another cop killed in the line of duty. He has no clients on retainer but depends on insurance cases and lawyer referrals to pay the bills. One job takes him to 11th Avenue and 49th Street, a location well on the way to gentrification. But "For anybody who had half a memory or any heart, it was still Hell's Kitchen. The story was a hundred years old: One Irish cop says to another, `This place is hell itself.' The other one gives it back that, `Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen no less.'"

Hell's Reunion begins with Rook's quick trip to Florida on a job for "a shyster lawyer" and same-day return to New York City, the apex of the action. Insurance cases are necessary evils, the bread and butter of the PI, and a reference from a past employer nets Rook a not-so-routine engagement. Divorcee Helen Maguire, 52 years old and 171 pounds, broke her neck when she fell down her steps _ and maybe had some help. Her insurance policy carried an AD&D rider _ Accidental Death and Dismemberment _ worth another $50,000. Rook's investigation as to cause of death develops tangents to her demise from insurance swindlers to a New York mob to a death in Iraq. His interaction with the lead detective on the case, Dwight Graves, who was on the force when Rook's twin brother was killed, climaxes in an unforgettable scene.

Sand's writing is not conventional A to B to C in structure. Tension-filled segments are interspersed with interludes of everyday events _ a restaurant meal, a bus ride, doing laundry, living in a building going condo where you can't afford the buy-in. The New York that Rook works in is not the tourists' Fifth Avenue or the baby-stroller-filled Upper West Side. His world is filled with ordinary people: Sid Rosen at the garage with his German shepherd, Bear; Joe Oren in his diner, asking Rook for a favor; shine man Jimbo Turner, who gives the best shoeshine in New York City and has a taste for Jersey corn and "swell New Jersey tomatoes."

Then there's Rook's next-balcony neighbor, Grace Savoy, high-fashion model and diva. "Blind as a bat but I'm not stupid," she always said, as she banked her haute couture dollars. A few deft adjectives and we know them all; we don't have to have a history lesson. The rhythm of the city is present on every page.

Given his background, Sand might even be the model for Lucas Rook. This native Philadelphian grew up in his hometown's equivalent of Hell's Kitchen. In addition to his current career as practicing attorney and political consultant, he's been a private eye, a fight promoter, and a bodyguard. Unlike his fictional counterpart, this NYU graduate is also a martial-arts master and part-time college professor, and is credited with writing the best-selling nonfiction Protocol, The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage.

With his Lucas Rook series, Sand joins the ranks of other current acclaimed Philadelphia mystery and thriller writers including William Lashner, Lisa Scottoline, David Hiltbrand and Duane Swierczynski. There must be something in the Philadelphia water that's produced this exemplary crop of contemporary crime fiction practitioners.


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