I loved O’Mara’s first book, Sacrifice Fly, and I think I like this one even more. His main character is Brooklyn teacher (now dean) Raymond Donne, who used to be a cop but thanks to an injury sustained on the job is now a teacher. Ray gets involved with different crimes because (so far at least) they’ve involved his students.
One of the strongest elements in this new series is not only the very Brooklyn specific setting, but the school setting. The parts O’Mara the real life teacher adds to his novels about his fictional teacher Ray ring with authenticity and add real emotional texture to his stories. It’s a weird comparison, but the way cozy writer Denise Swanson brings her school psychology experience to her books, adding detail and interest, O’Mara is setting his books apart in the same way Swanson has.
O’Mara also embraces – as does Swanson – his chosen part of the genre, which turns out to be the private eye. While Ray is not technically a private eye, he certainly functions as one, and when the mother of a murdered former student of Ray’s asks for his help he can’t say no. Dougie’s mom is sure that he couldn’t have been involved in either gangs or drugs, and she wants Ray to help her prove it, as the police have taken everything they’ve found at face value.
Ray is in agreement – Dougie had been a particularly promising student that Ray had helped get admitted into a posh private school – and he agrees to call a reporter acquaintance and see if a story in the paper might prompt the police into more action. The cops aren’t happy but the story does cause them to take another look, though Ray’s uncle, a high up mucky muck in the police, comes by in his town car to chew Ray out and tell him to cut out his investigative “help”.
When two more students from Dougie’s school suffer weird accidents (one fatal) Ray starts to think everything is connected. O’Mara is a deft storyteller, intertwining several complex threads to tell his heartbreaking tale. While this story is certainly a dark and sad one, O’Mara leavens it with the deepening relationship between Ray and the reporter and with the real humanity and goodness of Ray himself.
In a sophomore effort, I always hope not just for a continuation of what made the first book special, but for a deepening and expansion of what’s been started. O’Mara delivers. Ray Donne is a wonderful character with a great setting, and O’Mara’s storytelling skills have only seemed to sharpen with this newest book. I look forward to many more in this wonderful series.