What’s most fun about Rich Zahradnik’s new crime thriller set in Brooklyn, The Bone Records, is the peek into worlds most of us haven’t experienced first-hand. It tells the story of Grigg (Grigoriy) Orlov, whose father has been missing for five months. Grigg is trying to find him.
As the story begins, Grigg searches for Dad between his daytime job working for the city and a more intriguing evening gig at Coney Island’s Conquistador Arcade. He has scoured his Coney Island neighborhood and the Little Odessa portion of Brighton Beach, where Russian émigrés like his father gravitate. A high school teacher, his father was well known and liked. Surely, someone must have an idea whom his father might have connected with, where he might have gone.
Grigg doesn’t fit into the community the way his father always has. His mother, who died when he was a toddler, was from Jamaica. To the Russians, he will always be an outsider. The author gives you a good sense of Grigg’s anxieties and makes them seem well-founded. He feels out of place, and you feel it too.
Late one night, asleep in his empty house, Grigg is awakened by an intruder. It’s Dad! But hard on his heels is a man with a gun. The Orlovs try to escape, and his father is mortally wounded. He leaves Grigg two things: his dying words, which are “Get to Katia. Katia Sokolov—” and a strange black tube. Katia’s and Grigg’s fathers were best friends and left the Soviet Union together. She may know something, but her orbit is another place he doesn’t seem to fit.
Once he and Katia unroll the tube, they discover it is a bootleg sound recording (and not a good one) of the old Buddy Holly song, “Not Fade Away.” In the 1950s, when the Soviet Union was busily banning Western music and performers, rock n roll fans recorded blacklisted songs on discarded X rays and surreptitiously sold and traded them. They called them bone records. Author Zahradnik provides just enough background information about Soviet life to suggest the secrets the fathers left behind. Very possibly, the past has now reached out to snare his father, and maybe Grigg too.
He’s convinced the police won’t give the investigation a good try, and in a well-worn staple of amateur detective fiction, decides he will have to investigate the murder himself. Katia will help. This quest brings him into inevitable conflict with the Russian mafia, vicious crime lords who dominate Little Odessa. Constantly running into new dangers, he’s on a carousel whirling faster and faster. To get off is to die.
The story’s Coney Island amusement park backdrop was fun, and I enjoyed the complex web of relationships in the local Russian émigré community. The neighborhood comprises just a few square blocks in south Brooklyn, yet gives this thriller a distinctive flavor. The result is as much a roller coaster ride for the reader as a turn on the Coney Island Cyclone.
Rich Zarahdnik is the author of the Coleridge Taylor mysteries, including Lights Out Summer, which won the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America in 2018.