Parks’ third mystery featuring journalist Carter Ross is a filled with the wry humor of the protagonist that makes The Girl Next Door a delight to read.9781250013408

Set in the neighborhoods of northern New Jersey, Parks shows the dichotomy of the different areas he has Ross visit in his tenure on Newark’s Eagle-Examiner,  and the different attributes and customs that go along with each one.

Here’s Ross describing his personal attitude after years of experience : “As a newspaper reporter, I’m required to move in all strata of society. I get to observe human behavior everywhere, from the meanest housing projects to the gilded symphony hall. And what always strikes me is that when you strip away the superficial differences in clothing, setting, and dialect, groups of people everywhere are more or less the same . . . most of us are just trying to find a way to fit in.”

Reading the paper’s obituaries leads Ross to come across the death of Nancy Marino, a “girl next door” forties-something carrier for his own paper. When he decides to write a feature story about an everyday woman who dies too young, Ross naturally heads to her wake to meet her family and to hear the stories of this common woman.

So he’s more than surprised and quickly intrigued when one of Nancy’s sisters insists that the hit-and-run accident that claimed Nancy’s life was not an accident at all, but a cold-blooded murder. Adding to his interest is the appearance at the wake of his own newspapers publisher, the smarmy Gary Jackman, who refuses to give him an interview but has an arugment  with another man attending the wake that Ross overhears.

The reporter’s investigation reveals the never-married Nancy held down two jobs while caring for her elderly mother, who lived a few blocks away. Besides being a paper carrier, she worked part-time as a waitress at a local diner and was shop steward for her carrier’s union.

Ross digs into the case, convinced he’s on the right road to find Nancy’s murderer. He’ll get in trouble in far too many places at once, including with his boss and editor, who is his infrequent girlfriend, Tina Thompon. He’ll also become saddled with an intern who reads Emerson and Thoreau and is planning a thesis on Philip Roth, one of New Jersey’s hometown boys.

Parks’ creation is articulate and a pleasure to read; his characters are quirky and colorful. And best of all, his plotting twists and turns as it delves into the gritty world of some of the not-too nicest characters and neighborhoods of New Jersey. And some of those are the friends Carter Ross will depend on when he needs a helping hand.

Filled with action and unexpected turns, it’s difficult at one point to figure out how Ross will come out on top of this one. Keep reading.