Synopses & Reviews
The secrets of a group of childhood friends unravel in this haunting thriller by Edgar Award winner S. J. Rozan. Set in New York in the unforgettable aftermath of September 11, Absent Friends
brilliantly captures a time and place unlike any other, as it winds through the wounded streets of New York and Staten Island...and into a maze of old crimes, damaged lives, and heartbreaking revelations. The result is not only an electrifying mystery and a riveting piece of storytelling but an elegiac novel that powerfully explores a world changed forever on a clear September morning.
In a novel that will catch you off guard at every turn, and one that is guaranteed to become a classic, S. J. Rozan masterfully ratchets up the tension one revelation at a time as she dares you to ponder the bonds of friendship, the meaning of truth, and the stuff of heroism.
"New York City Fire Capt. James McCaffery is a hero to everyone who knew him, and many who didn't, even before his death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of that awful day, 'New York needs heroes,' as one character puts it. So it's particularly upsetting to the people McCaffery grew up with on Staten Island when a newspaper reporter suggests he may have been linked to organized crime and a shooting that happened exactly 22 years earlier. On September 11, 1979, Mark Keegan, a childhood friend of McCaffery's and most of the other characters in this rich, beautifully written book, killed a local mob boss's stepson allegedly in self-defense and later died in prison. Ever since, someone has been financially supporting Keegan's wife and young son, Kevin. The benefactor turns out to be McCaffery, but why? And where did the money come from? Rozan is a wonderful and insightful writer, and she creates an intricate, intimate portrait of a group of 40-something New Yorkers coping with a city in ruins. But the small mystery of Mark Keegan and Jimmy McCaffery cannot help paling in comparison to the larger evil perpetrated on 9/11, and the scope of the author's canvas multiple perspectives and far too many flashbacks makes the story more convoluted than it deserves to be. Nonetheless, the book powerfully articulates the mix of heartbreak, anger, helplessness and resolve of New Yorkers after 9/11." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Many years from now when your children ask what New York City was like just after 9/11, this will be the book you give them in response. It's an exquisite novel full of heart, soul, passion and intelligence, and it's the one this great New York author was born to write." Lee Child
"The best contemporary novels create context for shared experiences that somehow remain unfathomable. Full of surprises from page one, Absent Friends is one of those S.J. Rozan has written an ambitious, solemn, and ultimately hopeful book that shouldn't be missed." Stephen White
"S. J. Rozan is, hands-down, one of my favorite crime writers working today. To read her is to experience the kind of pure pleasure that only a master can deliver." Dennis Lehane
"Rozan has you looking over your shoulder into the dark." Michael Connelly
"S. J. Rozan has written the most consistently compelling series of traditional detective novels published in this decade. Now is the time to discover what Rozan's loyal readership has known all along." George Pelecanos
"Okay, listen up: This woman can write!" Robert Crais
"[A] riveting offering reminiscent of Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. An unforgettable elegy to the clear September morning that forever changed our lives." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Absent Friends is a meditation on love, loss and enduring friendships as filtered through the shattering aftermath of 9/11....Without question one of the year's standout novels." Baltimore Sun
"Absent Friends is a look at the nature of heroes, friendship, truth and self-knowledge.....The final chapter is richly heartbreaking and awe-inspiring."
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
"Rozan, who has won all the crime-genre awards for her Bill Smith/Lydia Chin detective titles, breaks away from that series with a novel that could stand proudly beside those of the masters, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos." The New York Daily News
"The story revolves around four boys and three girls their childhoods, myriad backgrounds and families and the men and women they become....Rozan delivers a rich, sophisticated view of New Yorkers whose lives, like so many others, were so vastly changed on that September morning." The Newport News Daily Press
"Add S.J. Rozan to the list of artists and writers addressing the legacy of 9/11. Her ambitious Absent Friends uses that event as the backdrop for a heartbreaking story about secrets, loyalty and our primal need for heroes." Seattle Times
Jimmy. Markie. Vickie. Marian. Sally. Tom. Jack. Childhood friends, each will live in the shadow of a past that still echoes with hopes and regrets. Markie will die in prison. Jim will die a hero when the Towers fall. But it is a reporter's suicide and a colleague's desperate search for answers in the dark aftermath of a horrifying tragedy that will finally penetrate their silence. Both a daring mystery and a tribute to an event that changed our lives irrevocably, it is Absent Friends' rich characters and indelible portrait of New York City that readers will find unforgettable and that mark this extraordinary novel as the signature work of an author poised to take her place in the front ranks.
About the Author
S. J. Rozan is the author of eight novels in the Edgar, Shamus, Nero, Macavity and Anthony Award-winning Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. Born and raised in the Bronx, Rozan is an architect in a New York firm and lives in Greenwich Village, where she is at work on her next novel of suspense, which Delacorte will publish in 2005.
Bookreporter.com questions for S.J. Rozan
1. When did you decide to depart from your series writing and do a book that included 9/11/01 as a central event?
Like a lot of writers, I was paralyzed by Sept. 11th. At first, writing fiction seemed completely meaningless, an impossibly trivial activity. But I've always believed that, while non-fiction deals with reality, fiction deals with truth. I began to think that writing about the event and about life in New York in the days and weeks after might be possible, that it would be valuable to record what was happening around me. It was NOT possible right then for me to write about anything else, so I began, tentatively, to try.
2. Reading this book recalls Dennis Lehane's MYSTIC RIVER since both deal with relationships and childhood friendships. There are parallels to SMALL TOWN by Lawrence Block, which in part concerned how the terror attacks rippled through the lives of individuals who were connected to each other in ways which were not immediately obvious. You take a somewhat similar approach in ABSENT FRIENDS, but from a much different, and very original, perspective. What inspired your approach, especially the ensemble construction of ABSENT FRIENDS?
The impact of Sept. 11th can't really be felt when you think of "3,000 dead." Each person who died was someone particular, with a present and a past; and each death scored deeply into numerous other lives that then had to go on. I wanted to get at those facts by starting with people who had a long-established set of relationships before Sept. 11th. I was also interested in the idea that people in crisis are who they always were and respond in ways their entire lives shaped them to respond. So I wanted to show who these people were from their young days, some of them from childhood.
3. Jimmy, in many ways, is the personification of all of the firefighters who died in the line of duty on September 11, but on your website you say his personality was based on one particular firefighter. What more can you share with readers about this? Are any of the other friends modeled upon childhood friends of yours?
The firefighter Jimmy was drawn from was a very private man and it wouldn't be right to talk about him, except to say I made significant changes in Jimmy's circumstances to make him unrecognizable. What I can say is that even from my days as an architect, when my firm did a number of firehouses, I've been intrigued by the idea of a career that's nine parts sitting around and one part risking your life, and intrigued by the people who choose that career.
No other character was modeled directly on any individual, though some have parts of the personalities or physical characteristics of friends of mine. But the childhood the kids share was in some ways my childhood in the Bronx.
4. Does any one character in ABSENT FRIENDS stand out as your personal favorite? If so, which one, and why? Was it more difficult to write about some characters than others?
No one stands out as a favorite -- I think that's like asking about a favorite child -- but the one who surprised me was Phil Constantine. He grew on me and I developed a fondness for him I hadn't planned. I'd intended him to be a lot more stiff and humorless than he turned out. This happens to me all the time, by the way, characters becoming somehting different from what I'd expected.
The character who gave me the most trouble at first was Laura. I think that's because her personal loss happened so early in the book, before I had a chance to get to know her. It was hard just to plunge in and write about someone in such emotional pain. It took me a few tries before she suddenly came to life.
5. What do you want readers to take with them from ABSENT FRIENDS?
I wrote the book to explore issues around the nature and uses of truth, heroism, and friendship. I have no answers to any of the questions I raise but I'd like people to take away the idea that these are questions that have to be asked over and over. What seems obvious may not be true and what's true may not always be right.
6. What was the most rewarding part of writing ABSENT FRIENDS?
Watching the different parts of the complex structure actually coalesce into a single story. It wasn't clear to me when I started that I'd be able to make that happen.
7. Many of those who live outside the city have a far different perspective than those who live here; no different than the way that New Yorkers may not appreciate fully the depths of the destruction in Florida and other parts of the South following this hurricane season. Are you interested to see how readers outside New York will react to this book?
Absolutely. I've had readers from other parts of the country say they've been looking for a way to understand what it was like here. I hope this book can help give them some perspective on that.
8. What can your readers expect from you in the future? Do you plan more series novels, or more stand-alone works like ABSENT FRIENDS? Or both? Are there any plans to publish a collection of your short stories in the future? And do you plan to present any of the characters from ABSENT FRIENDS, however peripherally, into your Smith & Chin novels?
I do plan to continue the series, and also to do more stand-alones. My next book will be another stand-alone, again set in New York and called IN THIS RAIN (Delacorte). After that, another Lydia Chin book. There will be short story collection, but I'm not sure when. As for the characters from ABSENT FRIENDS, I don't think they'll be back. This was their story; it's been told.