The Lightning Rule
In Newark, 1967, Detective Martin Emmett has been consigned to the basement of his precinct, filing records as punishment for failing to close a homicide case. As race riots break out in the city, Emmett has been given another unsolvable case, that of a black teen stabbed and mutilated in the subway. Growing suspicious that the murder is actually the work of a serial killer, Emmett finds himself beset by crooked cops and mob bosses alike.
Emmett is an intriguing character, a former seminary student who left the priesthood and has a strained relationship with his brother Edward, a Vietnam vet who’s lost the use of his legs. The turbulent sixties, especially a hot summer simmering with racial tensions, create a memorable backdrop for his case. Not only is he isolated by his fellow detectives, but the rioting, lawlessness, and virtual shutting down of Newark increases his alienation to the nth degree. Block emphasizes Emmett’s lone ranger aspects but gives him a small community—a witness under his protection, Edward’s caregiver, and even Edward himself—that make both Emmett and the reader despair less. The serial killer’s story is chillingly woven in, and although Newark would not be my first choice of settings for any book, the effect of time and place is indelible.