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Sunday, December 4, 2022

She Awoke in Central Park, Handcuffed to a Stranger. What Happened?

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That opener is a doozy, however: The Paris-based homicide detective Alice Schafer wakes up in an autumn woodland one morning, handcuffed to a strange man who turns out to be the jazz musician Gabriel Keyne. Both soon realize they are in a densely forested part of Central Park called the Ramble. Gabriel has a clue cut into his skin, and Alice finds another on a piece of paper — left, perhaps, by a serial killer she has tried and failed to apprehend.

Musso, as reflected in Sam Taylor’s nimble translation, spoons out details and misdirection with brio, along with the roots of Alice’s raw rage, carrying this reader along for longer than she bargained for. More jarring, in addition to that credibility-shattering last-act twist, were the inappropriate, power-imbalanced meet-cutes that men have with Alice, inexorably linking her romantic life with death.

When readers meet Erin McCabe, the protagonist of Robyn Gigl’s emotionally resonant debut, BY WAY OF SORROW (Kensington, 304 pp., $26), she’s in a courtroom for the first time in five years, hoisting a homophobic judge by his own petard. Establishing Erin’s capability and creativity as a lawyer right away is a smart gambit, because the bulk of the novel juxtaposes her professional acumen with the struggles she and her client Sharise face being recognized for who they are.

Erin is transgender, as is Sharise, who is jailed for murdering the son of a senator. So, too, is the author, a New Jersey-based litigation specialist. This matters because Gigl writes scene after scene where her characters’ basic humanity is ignored, laughed at, mocked or cause for imminent harm. (That the story takes place in 2006 and 2007, when trans rights garnered far less public discussion, also matters.) The misgenderings sting, and should, but Gigl is too astute and compassionate a writer to create cartoon villainy out of anti-trans attitudes. Both Erin and Sharise will find acceptance, often slow, sometimes fervent, among recalcitrant loved ones.

Both women also find themselves caught up in a terrifying conspiracy that costs the lives of far too many. The resulting legal resolution feels inevitable, but open-ended enough for more Erin McCabe appearances, a welcome — and quietly groundbreaking — development.

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