He had the place all to himself. He found a weak spot in the fence surrounding the construction site and squeezed through as he threw a nervous glance around. The last thing he needed was to be spotted while climbing the scaffolding. Slowly at first, but then with growing confidence, he got to what was going to be the second floor of the building... After a short rest, Curtis continued his climb. He’d taken just a few steps when he heard the creak of boards somewhere below him. He stopped to see if the noise had come from his own steps. It hadn’t. He glanced down but didn’t see anyone. Besides, nobody knew he was up there. Must be a squirrel or something. He listened again for a few minutes, but didn’t hear anything more. He climbed a few more steps and, still hearing nothing, turned his attention back to that third-floor beam he wanted to reach.
Step by step. After another short rest, Curtis finally made it to the third floor. It hadn’t been easy, but he was fifteen – old enough to get all the way to the top if he’d wanted to. He finally reached the beam he’d been dreaming of sitting on – perched just like a bird over the city street below. When he got to the beam, he slowly straightened up and prepared to walk to the end of it. He knew he could do it; all it took was concentration. Foot in front of foot.
comments: Margot Kinberg is a good friend of mine, though I share that honour with all crime fiction bloggers: everyone knows and likes her. Her own (much-missed) blog was an endless resource of great reading suggestions, and a tour de force of thinking of new topics and finding half a dozen crime books that followed the theme. Even though the blog is no longer with us, Margot still supports the rest of us, with her sensible and witty comments.
And we can only hope that our loss is crime fiction’s gain – because Margot also writes detective stories, and Downfall is the most recent.
It features her series sleuth Joel Williams: I have read several of her books featuring him and this one is something of a departure – the others were more traditional murder stories, with a death and a body and circle of suspects. This one is a really unusual setup and way of investigating a crime.
The young man in the excerpt above comes from a centre for young offenders – this is from the opening pages of the book, so it is not a spoiler to say he is going to die. But his fall from the scaffolding will not be treated as suspicious at all: it’s that Joel (an academic in the criminal justice area) is looking at the way troubled young people are treated. He and his research colleagues have a concern solely as to how young Curtis got out of the facility: it’s a security issue. But as they dig deeper they can see that something weird is going on at the centre: ‘Second Chance of Cobbs Creek. Located in West Philadelphia, it was a residential program for juvenile offenders.’ There is more trouble to come. It never seems that there is going to be a solution or revelation from outside this tight circle: the book is more about the dogged painstaking investigation, the steps to take to find out what is really going on in this place.
There are fascinating details on young offenders and how they are, or might be, treated.
There is the right amount of detail about the vital question of paperwork and statistics, and facts filed away on computers. And there is a very specific setting in Philadelphia – place, time, details.
The story is very compelling and involving: I thought this book was excellent. I particularly liked the centrality of the dead youth, Curtis Templeton. He is not the kind of person who usually has such an important role in a crime novel – there are many similar characters in books, but they are peripheral and a death will not be a major issue. I liked that Curtis was important, his death was important, his life was important. And Joel and his friends worked hard to find the answers.
There was an unusual second thread on the best way for the future in the ideas for dealing with young offenders – a project at Joel’s college is under discussion, and we were given both sides of the story. It was left in doubt till the last minute what Joel’s ultimate verdict would be on the project. I liked the even-handed debate on the issues.
So all in all – a highly-recommended book from Margot.
My only complaint is this: Not enough clothes descriptions Margot! Please put some more in your next book.
So I had to find something else to illustrate and chose this very beautiful picture: from Wikimedia Commons, it shows work on a building (a railway station) in Berlin.