“I didn’t do the crime.” Journalist Rebekah Roberts reads these words, part of prisoner DeShawn Perkins’ handwritten plea for justice. He’s doing time for a murder that took place 22 years earlier, when Malcolm and Sabrina Davis, along with their young foster daughter, were brutally shot in their Crown Heights apartment. DeShawn, their troubled foster son, is fingered for the crime. But after reading DeShawn’s letter, Rebekah is moved to follow up on his contention of innocence.
Conviction is the latest mystery from Julia Dahl (Invisible City, Run You Down). Police officer Saul Katz, a prominent character in Dahl's earlier books, is a kind of stepfather to Rebekah. The story slips back and forth in time between 2014, the year Rebekah reads DeShawn's letter, to 1992. We learn that 1992 was the year of the murder, and that Katz was involved in the DeShawn case as a rookie with the NYPD during this time when violence between black and Jewish neighborhoods was rampant in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
The elements of this chilling, well-crafted jigsaw puzzle never skip over the hard facts of racial division and frequent bloodshed that racked the Brooklyn community during the '90s. Each character receives close attention: from Isaiah, an uncompromising Jewish landlord; to Henrietta, whose testimony solidified the case; to Joseph's unspoken, terrible mission; and finally to DeShawn and his tragic story. Most of all, Conviction captures the characters of Saul and Rebekah in their intricate, sometimes explosive interactions that explore both affection and wariness.
One particular passage captures Dahl’s essential mindset as she frames this story. In Saul's early cop years, while closely involved with the Crown Heights neighborhood, he recognizes “how much the camaraderie among officers resembled the camaraderie among the men in shul. . . . The men in blue uniforms—like the men in black hats—had a common language, a common purpose, a common set of rules and prejudices. They were misunderstood by outsiders, but outsiders were not important. What was important was the man beside you.”
Rebekah shines in this installment in Dahl's series, and the young journalist is sure to linger in readers’ minds. She’s solid, believable and never overplayed. In Conviction, Rebekah recognizes the insular nature of parties in conflict and finds a way to bring the truth to light.