No Witness But the Moon finds author Suzanne Chazin jumping into the highly polarizing waters of police shootings and public protest. Her series hero, homicide detective Jimmy Vega is just two blocks away when a home invasion call comes in. There have been many incidents recently with escalating violence and it’s quite likely this is one more. The dispatcher says shots were fired and when he arrives on the scene several minutes ahead of other police, the suspect has fled into the woods. Vega pursues, confront, and shoots the suspect who turns out to be unarmed.
What ensues is the stereotyped reaction to police shootings as perceived by the police, but with no resemblance to reality. Vega is questioned immediately which does not happen. Most police contracts stipulate at least 48 hours between the incident and questioning and Cleveland gave the man who shot 12 year-old Tamir Rice more than six months to figure out his story before questioning him. The police not only give everything to the media while shutting out Vega, they give witness statements and police reports to a political organizer who leads a national movement against police violence on the very same night of the shooting while shutting out Vega. Right, while in real life, the release of statements and videos can take days, weeks or even more than a year. More ridiculously unrealistic, there is a national hue and cry in response to the shooting of a suspect in a reported home invasion. Sorry, but the victims of police murder who have inspired national outrage were not committing home invasions, they were sitting in their car reading a book, sitting at a picnic table, shopping at Walmart, sleeping in their bed, walking home from the store, selling cigarettes, selling CDs, sitting as a passenger in a car, driving with a tail light out and having their car break down on the highway. Do you see any home invasions there?
The protesters are portrayed as a violent mob who want to kill Vega, who try to beat him to death. The movement leader is portrayed as a smug, evil opportunist who is unnecessarily and spitefully slandered in the end, particularly when she makes him an amalgam of Dr. Henry Louis Gates with his bowtie and Rev. Al Sharpton with his religious oratory. He is a movement leader perceived through the lens of white supremacy and this caricature of the movement is offensive. Also, neither Gates nor Sharpton are leaders of the human rights movement Black Lives Matter that is shining a light on the impunity with which police kill unarmed black men.
This is mitigated somewhat by Chazin’s sympathy for the plight of the undocumented immigrant. She understands the reasons people come here and is on their side, while still making a point that they commit illegal acts in getting here. She knows how they are exploited by the people who smuggle them into America, but the employers who employ them and by the system that ignores the crimes against them because they only see the “crime” of their presence here.
There is, of course, more to the story than a police shooting. A second body is discovered and when Vega learns the man he shot was the super in his murdered mother’s apartment building and the one who discovered his mother and called 911, he takes his time on suspension to investigate his mother’s murder. There are clues in the text that make it possible to figure out who might be the killer and understand the motive. Enough clues that Vega seems a bit obtuse, but then, he is under pressure.
The more interesting character in this installment of the series is Adele, Vega’s lover. She is the founder of an organization providing services to immigrants and is expected to denounce and call for a grand jury investigation of the shooting. Of course, she is conflicted and through her eyes we see the only authentic response to the shooting – the trust she has for Vega in conflict with her experiences with the police and with the history of police interactions with people of color around the country.
This book makes me sad. I loved this series and feel betrayed. On the one hand, this is an interesting story that made me want to read to the end. On the other hand, the gross and insulting characterization of the people who bravely stand against police violence is so offensive and false. I just can’t really recommend a book that reinforces a false perspective on police killing of unarmed people and the response of activists. They are far more responsible and ethical than portrayed in this book. There has never been national outrage of someone killed while committing a home invasion. I doubt there ever will be and that is such an egregious slander of the movement for justice I cannot overlook it, even though I like this author and her series until this book. It’s reckless with the truth and with so many people shot for no good reason, they deserve better than this.
No Witness But the Moon will be released October 25th. I was provided an advance e-galley by the publisher through NetGalley.