Review: Rumor of Evil by Gary Goshgarian

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As in the best mysteries, Rumor of Evil by Gary Braver (Goshgarian), does not just chase a murderer. Instead, the book presents a mélange of the past and the present, family ties and secrets, toxic friendships and heartache, all the while we, the readers, as well as the detectives are trying to identify two killers two decades apart.

Goshgarian stays true to his roots — both as an Armenian-American and as a son of Massachusetts. He introduces us to detectives Kirk Lucian and Mandy Wing of the Cambridge Police Department, who are called to a swish Cambridge house to solve the killing of a woman, Sylvie Cox Thornton, found hanging in the backyard of her home. Is it a suicide or a murder? The duo make for an interesting pairing: Lucian is an Armenian-American with a soft spot for lahmejun and a heavy heart after the senseless killing of his teen daughter by a hit-and-run driver and his subsequent separation, and Wing is a young lesbian who brings her own baggage to the job, with a single-minded mission to get rid of bad folks and make life safer for everyone.

Back to the victim Thornton, who had lost one son and the other had opted to live with her husband after the couple’s ugly divorce.

Once the police settle on the death being a murder, the real fun begins and the body count starts mounting.

The two detectives’ quest for the present-day murderer is tied to the death two decades ago of 16-year-old Vadima Lupescu, a Roma exchange student from Slovakia, who was living with Morgan Bolt and her family, a classmate and BFF, as the kids would say, of the now-deceased Sylvie. The beautiful Vadima had died in a horrific treehouse fire on Halloween at the Bolt home 20 years ago.

Was she killed or did she simply knock over a kerosene lamp by accident? Or did the jealous and ignorant teens she considered her friends take their revenge on her because they thought she was a witch? Or was the revolting patriarch of the Bolt family who had taken a sick shine to poor Vadima to blame?

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The overly intense friendships of the teens are at the center of this whodunit. Of the 50 or so short chapters in the book, 19 are diary entries from Morgan before and immediately after the death of Vadima.

Goshgarian gives a lot of depth, nuance and heart to Kirk, including his anguish at the separation from his wife, and his almost paternal attitude toward his young partner who is just learning the ropes of dealing with suspects.

Goshgarian also sprinkles a lot of local details so that those of us familiar with Watertown, Lexington, Arlington and the Cape get to see our neck of the woods in the pages.

Where Rumor of Evil succeeds is with empathy and the quest for justice. And we also get a nice list of possible suspects — some of them revolting — and a whole lot of red herrings. Goshgarian is an intelligent writer and assumes his readers are likewise.

As the dedicated officers follow clues and hunt down suspects, we see things are not what they seem and also realize that the past can haunt the present unless one deals with its trauma. We also see that behind the walls of some of those gorgeous stately homes, unlike what a passerby might imagine, tears and heartache rule the day.

It is welcome news that Goshgarian is planning to featuring Lucian, who seems to be a deliciously vulnerable and intelligent character, in more books.

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