‘Eyes of the Innocent’: down those mean Newark streets

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Following the oldest maxim of them all — write what you know — former journalist Brad Parks has launched an engaging and exciting crime novel series about Newark, N.J. newspaperman Carter Ross.

I missed the first book in the series “Faces of the Gone” — which earned the novelist both the Shamus and Nero awards — but was able to dive right into book number two, “Eyes of the Innocent” (Minotaur Books/St. Martins), without ever feeling like I had stumbled into the middle of a movie.

Parks has that good mystery series writer’s gift of being able to craft stories that can stand alone while building into an ongoing account of one character’s life. I do want to go back and read “Faces” now but it’s not because I feel like I have to.

Ross is a completely contemporary figure — a journalist dedicated to his craft at the same time that trends in his business leave our hero wondering how much longer he’ll be able to do his job.

There’s an amusing subplot in “Eyes of the Innocent” involving Carter being assigned a young and beautiful blonde intern — dubbed “Sweet Thang” by other staffers — who has to be guided through the shoals of reporting by her new mentor.

In Newark, Parks has found the perfect setting to represent 21st century American life — a once-vibrant city that has long since lost most of the jobs and the middle class that made it a lively and profitable metropolis.

The city center has some highly touted urban renewal landmarks — a few new corporate towers, a glitzy performing arts center and a sports venue — but the rest of the place is mired in poverty and crime. And the folks who use the city center for its business and cultural assets leave every night for their homes in affluent suburbs ringing Newark.

Like so many other American cities, Parks’s Newark has lost much of its reason for being — the jobs and the middle class went elsewhere decades ago.

The plot of “Eyes of the Innocent” is powered by great topical subject matter — the impact of the subprime mortgage catastrophe on the people and the neighborhoods who are suffering the consequences of housing loans that could never be repaid.

Carter and his young sidekick set out to do a human interest story on a mother who has lost two of her children in a fire — the woman says she is working two jobs to pay a mortgage that was reset to a much higher interest rate than she signed up for — but the woman isn’t what she appears to be at first glance, and the “story” is much bigger than our reporter hero imagines.

Brad Parks is another wonderful modern New Jersey noir novelist to go on the shelf next to Harlan Coben and Dave White.

(Brad Parks will be doing a reading and signing Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Books on the Common, 404 Main St., Ridgefield.)

Joe Meyers

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