2018-02-08 / Opinions

Book Review

Surrender, New York
By CALEB CARR
Reviewed by
PEGGY BARNETT

Surrender, New York, (the name of the town where the action takes place and a possible reference to a back story) is a gripping novel about Dr. Trajan Jones and his colleague Dr. Michael Li. Dr. Jones is a criminal psychologist; Dr. Li, a trace evidence expert. They currently live on Trajan’s aunt’s farm, teaching online courses. Formerly they were advisors to the New York City Police, but ran into difficulty for criticizing persons in power.

While taking care of his exotic cat Marcianna, Trajan meets Lucas, a local teenager whose parents have left, and arranged for his sister to be his guardian. Trajan and Mike are investigating the disappearance and then murder of a girl from the town. Lucas is thrilled to be included in the work. He turns out to be an eager disciple for their methods, with bright ideas.

He agrees not to tell Derek, his friend, or his sister about what they are doing, but Trajan does visit Ambyr, the sister, to explain the situation, and a romance begins. The romance does not interfere with the action, but it does complicate things even further.

They learn of other teens who seem to have disappeared, then are found dead. Trajan and Mike come to believe that they are suicides, perhaps victims of a conspiracy to keep terrible crimes a secret. Trajan and Mike carry guns and escape several dangerous episodes, while they worry about the safety of Lucas, Ambyr, and Marcianna.

We admire these capable, courageous characters, and discover that Caleb Carr is also possessed of acumen and skill as he develops the plot. He has created attractive, believable people, setting up surprises and closing many chapters with ”cliff-hangers:” “But this conception of our foray was to prove wholly inadequate, in manifold ways; and my partner and especially I would ultimately be glad that we had taken the precaution of arming ourselves before leaving our headquarters.”

Two of the local officials and one state authority respect them and are grateful for their assistance, but several state law enforcement officers are enemies, and they and the reader are not always sure whom they can depend on as they come closer to the truth. “The deaths… of the throwaway children were not the work of the two or three people necessary for the mere staging of the bodies, but were somehow tied to an organization… capable of pulling strings long enough to reach into remote areas.”

Carr is an acclaimed author; his book The Alienist has recently been adapted for television. In the acknowledgements, he explains that Trajan’s scorn for modern forensics to the exclusion of old-fashioned investigative techniques is his own “obsession.” Further, he wants to be sure that the story of Marcianna is not misinterpreted. She is an exception to the rule that exotic big cats should not be in private ownership.

Surrender, New York is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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