SJ Rozan takes a swipe at New York politics, real estate, and corruption in her 2007 standalone novel, In This Rain. In the Bronx, a site called Mott Haven, which is supposed to begin the revitalization of the rather unglamorous outer borough of New York, suffers a series of accidents that puts Mayor Charlie Barr on edge. The city has already taken a black eye on corruption in its building oversight only a couple of years before. Barr might have been able to let the Department of Investigation and the NYPD handle this on their own, but several bricks fell off one of the buildings under construction, killing a woman on her way home from work. Dead local residents don’t bode well for a city that’s supposed to have cleaned house.
They put Ann Montgomery, a sassy blonde who drives her Boxster in a way that would make James Bond nervous, on the case. She, in turn, hands her evidence to her former partner, Joe Cole to look over. Cole, whose career as an investigator ended in the previous witch hunt, spots the deliberate tampering right off the bat, but who’s tampering? Is it Ford Corrington, the Harlem community organizer outraged that the Trumps and Silversteins of New York want to get their hands on Manhattans last refuge for working class blacks? Is it Walter Glybenhall, the wannabe player in New York’s real estate game who’s losing money on the Mott Haven project? Maybe it’s Edgar Westermann, the Manhattan borough president who wants Charlie Barr’s job.
The finger of blame keeps shifting from chapter to chapter. It doesn’t help that Ann has been put on the case despite having an acrimonious past with Glybenhall. Montgomery is everything you’d want in an investigator – tough, tenacious, diligent. She is also loyal, turning to Cole for help in an effort to lure him back after doing time for the trumped charge in the city’s previous building scandal. That loyalty turns romantic, and as some of Glybenhall’s machinations turn on Montgomery, it’s the previously broken Cole who is supporting an increasingly shaky Ann.
As interesting as Montgomery is Charlie Barr, the well-intentioned mayor who slowly realizes he’s more corrupt than he thought. The popular mayor called “Hizzoner” by the local press (a nickname that’s largely disappeared since the early days of Giuliani). Barr goes from worrying about renewed corruption among the building inspectors of the city to doing damage control to salvage his plans to run for governor.
Then there’s Edgar Westermann, who oozes sleaze as he tries to manipulate the mayor, cozying up to Glybenhall and playing the race card. Westermann stands to gain the most from the latest scandal and disaster if he games it right.
Rozan has a rapid-fire, dialog driven style of writing. Her New York is a native’s New York, but her best setting is Joe Cole’s cabin, dubbed Heart’s Content. Cole retreats to the elaborate garden he’s created out back. Eventually it becomes Ann’s refuge, too. In This Rain is a rich tapestry of modern New York.