Julia Dahl’s examination of the myriad communities that exist — sometimes not so harmoniously — in Brooklyn, New York, fuels her third excellent novel featuring freelance reporter Rebekah Roberts.
In “Conviction,” Dahl effectively uses the backdrop of the Crown Heights riots that pitted the Hasidic and black communities against each other during 1991 that had ramifications for decades. Racism and anti-Semitism are smoothly woven into the plot as Dahl shows how a violent nature can be formed and that ethical journalism matters and can change lives.
Rebekah agrees to look into the case of DeShawn Perkins, who has been in prison for 16 years in the death of his foster parents and foster sister in 1992. DeShawn claims he’s innocent, but Rebekah knows that almost every convicted murderer says that. Before the murders, DeShawn had been rebelling against his very loving foster parents — a situation well-known in the community and at the tight-knit church the family attended. The pastor and several of his parishioners were quick to blame DeShawn, who says he was coerced into confessing and that a policeman took a crack addict’s identification without questioning it.
“Conviction” easily moves between 1992, showing a neighborhood still reeling from the tensions that sparked the riots, and the present with a gentrifying Crown Heights community.
Rebekah’s investigation leads to ex-cop Saul Katz, a former Orthodox Jew who is now involved with the reporter’s mother, politicians and area landowners. Dahl succinctly shows the drudgery of real reporting — slogging through court files and paperwork, interviewing those who remember the murders — and how this sleuthing for facts can pay off.
Dahl proved her skills as a strong storyteller in her debut, “Invisible City,” which won several awards and was nominated for an Edgar. “Conviction” illustrates how her talents continue to grow.
A formidable view of a changing neighborhood, believable characters and intriguing twists that keep the reader guessing the outcome until the satisfying finale meld for the uber-smart “Conviction.” Oline H. Cogdill, AP