Reviews originally appeared in New Jersey Monthly Magazine.
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
First-time author Jenny Milchman, a Montclair native now living in Morristown, sets Cover of Snow (Ballantine Books) in a cryptically named small town in upstate New York. Fictional Wedeskyull has one streetlight, an eight-month winter and plenty of secrets.
When Nora Hamilton discovers that her husband, a respected officer on the Wedeskyull force, has hung himself on a January night, her grief threatens to overwhelm her will to unearth what led to his fatal decision. Cover of Snow is reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in that both novels unravel a mysterious death in a small town, where stubborn relatives and heavy snows help conceal the crimes.
Milchman’s ability to weave suspense rivals that of established authors. Every chapter ends with a strategic cliffhanger, revealing another unexpected clue and propelling the reader deeper into the plot.
The Good Cop by Brad Parks
The Good Cop (Minotaur Books) is Brad Parks’s fourth novel following the adventures of Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for the fictional Newark Eagle-Examiner. Parks, a former Star-Ledger reporter, injects realism into the newsroom scenes without burdening them with jargon. Ross is drawn as a stereotypical reporter with his boring wardrobe, coffee addiction, sardonic wit and a cat named Deadline.
The detective work begins when a Newark cop is found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot. Ordered not to cover the story, Ross forms a relationship with the officer’s widow, and they begin to suspect something is awry. Plenty of absurd situations occur along the way, such as meeting a death-studies graduate student at an absinthe party and sneaking into the county morgue.
In addition to police suicide, The Good Cop, though somewhat formulaic, addresses other timely issues such as state-to-state gun smuggling.
Driving the Saudis by Jayne Amelia Larson
In this humorous and insightful memoir, Edison native Jayne Larson inadvertently becomes a royal family’s servant.
As a struggling actress in Los Angeles, Larson decides chauffeuring the Hollywood elite might be a creative approach to networking with producers and agents. When a high-end limo company hires her, she hears buzz about a large royal Saudi family that travels every summer to Beverly Hills for shopping and plastic surgery. Even though the 24/7 shifts would be exhausting, the tips at the end of the job are rumored to be as high as $20,000. As one of 10 New Jersey siblings, Larson thinks she’s prepared to handle the demands of a big family.
The Saudis prove to be extravagant, arriving with suitcases filled with $20 million in cash, receiving daily face-lifts and breast enhancements, and reserving a hotel room just for preparing tea. The princesses aren’t shy about asking her to buy 30 bottles of a particular brand of hair-removal cream and nearly 60 $500 brassieres.
These errands are put on Larson’s shoulders—the only female in the Saudis’ team of 40 drivers. “My sense of what was important was so skewed at this point that somehow I equated my undergarment treasure hunt with something of great significance—as if what I was doing would better the world in some way,” she writes.
The combination of the male-dominated chauffeur industry and the inherent sexism of Saudi culture takes its toll; Larson is taken advantage of, overlooked or harassed daily. At the end of the seven-week job, she realizes the extent of her cultural naiveté.
All images courtesy of publishers.