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28 September 2015

Suzanne Chazin's Land of Careful Shadows

I likely never would have picked this book up if Kensington hadn't offered the second book in the series, A Blossom Of Bright Light, to me via NetGalley. I hadn't heard of Suzanne Chazin and since it's far from being a middle grade, historical or cozy it's not something that I would have just stumbled upon in my searches for something to read. I think, sometimes, that someone at Kensington knows me more than maybe I know myself.

As said, this isn't cozy. Not only aren't their recipes or book clubs or quirky amateur sleuths ... it's just not cozy. Things are uncomfortable. Things are real. Well, fictional ... but more realistic than the cozies I've read so frequently for so many years.

Land of Careful Shadows takes place in Lake Holly, New York -- a fictional community north of New York City (only about 50 miles north -- maybe Westchester or Rockland County). When Jimmy Vega was growing up there he was the only Latino aside from his mother. Jimmy is now a detective for the county and has returned to Lake Holly after the body of an Hispanic woman is found dead at a nearby lake. In her purse was a photo of a small child and no one knows where the child is. Jimmy's ex-wife and teenage daughter still live there -- and his high school sweetheart and her husband are also back in the area with their young pre-teen daughter. Lake Holly become a haven for undocumented immigrants from Central America who live alongside documented (aka "legal") immigrants and affluent members of society (such as Jimmy's exes) -- often doing low-paying jobs for a day here and a day there. Some members of the community see the "illegals" as people who are just trying to make better lives for themselves and their families but some just want to see them all deported and sent back to wherever they came from.

Much of the story centers around this clash. Are the authorities not doing enough because the victim was there illegally and they (seemingly) don't care about bringing the killer to justice? Are they doing too much because she was there illegally and, therefore, didn't really matter? Jimmy gets pulled from all directions -- as a police officer, a Latino (albeit it a New York born once with Puerto Rican heritage), even as a father since his own daughter is dating an illegal immigrant.

This is not just Jimmy's story and this is not just a mystery/crime novel. My favorite parts centered around the La Casa community center and, especially, the character of Rodrigo. He had already been imprisoned and deported for being an illegal and yet still struggled to return in order to be able to some day return home to his family with enough financial stability to support them. Reading about what he and his friends and family had gone through broke my heart. I've known quite a lot of refugees and immigrants (both documented and undocumented), but none of them had every spoken to me of what they had gone through in order to get to wherever they were. 

I have the second book sitting on my NetGalley shelf waiting for me. I hope it's as good!

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