Neptune Avenue – Gabriel Cohen

“Nothing personal” is Brooklyn South Homicide Detective Jack Leightner’s motto. This applies to his grueling police work as well as to his personal life. Divorced, with a twenty-five-year-old son whom he rarely sees, he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. However, soon he won’t be living up to his credo—either in work or in love.

While investigating the murder of a prostitute in Crown Heights—and there will soon be more—he discovers that an old friend, Daniel Lelo, has been shot and killed. They met two years earlier, when they shared a hospital room while both were recovering from bullet wounds. Daniel, a Russian immigrant and a fish market owner from Brighton Beach, claimed that he was simply in the line of fire. It was a sketchy excuse, and the gunman was never identified.

Jack makes Daniel’s case personal. And when he questions Daniel’s widow, Zhenya, she tells him that she believes that Daniel died at the hands of Semyon Balakutis, a Russian mob leader. Jack’s investigation of Balakutis, again, gets very personal, as does his relationship with Zhenya, with whom he engages in a torrid love affair. Not only could it ruin his career, but the extensive harassment of this Russian “businessman” could literally kill him.

Neptune Avenue takes readers through the ethnic and racial dynamics of Brooklyn—from Crown Heights (where the African American majority lives side-by-side with the Hasidic minority) to Brighton Beach (the home of Eastern European immigrants). The story reminds us that we all are influenced by our ethnic past. For example, Jack remains psychologically damaged by his abusive Russian-Jewish father. Meanwhile, his young black partner, Kyle, gives him another perspective on their cases. And, as Jack tries to investigate, former Soviet immigrants refuse to talk to police because of ingrained fear and mistrust of the KGB. What complicates this even further for the police is that they need to know not only about all of the “tribes” (as Jack refers to them) that have come to Brooklyn from so many countries, but also about the distinct sub-groups within them.

Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but author Gabriel Cohen manages to put it all together without losing the reader or slowing down the momentum. In fact, the depth and quick pace, along with all of the story’s twists and turns, make this a difficult book to put down. Neptune Avenue is tough, graphic, and violent, but it’s still passionate, sexy, and alluring, too.

Though this is Cohen’s third novel featuring detective Jack Leightner, this was my first experience with him—but definitely won’t be my last. This enticing novel succeeded to whet my appetite, and I’m craving more.

(review previously published on www.nightsandweekends.com)

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