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The Girl Next Door by Brad Parks
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312667689
Date: 13 March 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Excerpt of The Girl Next Door / Show Official Info /

Pretty, young Nancy Marino was the proverbial girl next door who worked two jobs in this depressed economy. She delivered newspapers for the Newark Eagle-Examiner and waited tables at the State Street Grill. She was also a union steward for the newspaper's IFIW-Local 117. One morning, while delivering newspapers on Ridge Avenue, she is the victim of a hit-and-run accident.

Carter Ross, investigative reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner, learns that this accident was cold-blooded murder. As Carter grows closer to identifying a madman, he begins losing everything in his life he holds dear: his career, his girlfriend and his home. Soon, he will be losing his life.

America's favorite crime-fighting newspaper reporter, Carter Ross, has returned for more hilarious hijinks at the Newark Eagle-Examiner. He may be tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed and cute, but he's not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to deducing the killer's identity until it's too late. The reader will know long before Carter does. He has the nerve to speak ill about his pet cat, Deadline, who is about as active as a plush toy. Speaking of plush toys, Tina Thompson, Carter's gorgeous, self-absorbed boss, is still actively pursuing him to become the sperm donor for her bastard baby. I don‘t know why; it must be his good looks and not his intellect.

Brad Parks' first novel, Faces of the Gone, dealt with illegal drug distribution, his second, Eyes of the Innocent, pertained to real estate scams, and his third proved that our own work environment can be a potential source of murder and death. Each novel depicts Carter as a type of superhero who is constantly searching for justice for those who can't defend themselves, whether they are betrayed drug dealers, impoverished children or the overworked girl next door who faithfully attended church and rarely dated. The reader can't help but admire Carter's persistence, tenacity and bravery as he literally risks everything in order to identify Nancy Marino's killer. If only his sense of humor didn't overshadow his common sense.

Fortunately, the oddballs in the newsroom nest at the Newark Eagle-Examiner have returned to help our bungling hero. There is the aforementioned hormonally explosive Tina Thompson who has been promoted to assistant managing editor upon the departure of ancient Sal Szanto. Constantly criticizing Carter's conservative wardrobe is the flamboyant political reporter Tommy Hernandez, a young Puerto Rican who doesn't have a straight bone in his gym-fit body. The overweight, pompous Buster Hays has a love/hate relationship with our privileged, pretty boy hero. Replacing Sweet Twang is the new intern, Lunky (Kevin Lungford), a humongous, hulking young man who loves reading classic literature but doesn't have a clue about real newspaper reporting.

Crime-infested Newark, New Jersey, continues to be the setting of this highly intriguing, highly comical mystery series. After reading Brad Parks' novels, Newark doesn't even make it in the top one-thousand places I would like to visit on vacation. However, according to Carter, Newark is the best place to be if one gets shot; they have the finest trauma centers in the country, such as the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. The emergency room doctors must get a lot of practice treating gunshot wounds. Newark has been the setting for a lot of crime dramas I've read.

Unfortunately for me, The Girl Next Door was not as violent as its predecessors. (The gorehound in me relishes a high body count.) The first two I would classify as humorous New Jersey noir. Minus the gruesome murder at the beginning, Parks' latest entry strongly resembles a cozy; it has much more humor than the others, so much humor that I feared it overshadowed the mystery. However, I believe I laughed out loud more times when reading The Girl Next Door, especially when Carter was being attacked by a wild bear. Regardless of whether you enjoy noir or cozies, The Girl Next Door is highly recommended reading for all mystery fans.

Brad Parks has also authored a short story, The Nightgown, that will be available on March 5, 2012 in electronic format only. It is a prequel to Faces of the Gone. A much younger Carter Ross risks his life investigating a car crash in order to land a job at the Newark Eagle-Examiner. I will most definitely be reading The Nightgown on my iPhone.

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