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Absent Friends    by S. J. Rozan order for
Absent Friends
by S. J. Rozan
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In Absent Friends, Rozan captures life and death, heartache and joy, hope and despair with tenderness, compassion, and realism. The author takes readers into the lives of childhood friends passing in time, back and forth, from the 60s and 70s to a clear morning on September 11th, 2001 and the time shortly thereafter. Secrets unwind through childhood activities, past crimes, damaged lives, love and hatred, and heartbreaking revelations in the scarred streets of New York City.

The World Trade Center Towers fall in Manhattan on 9/11. From the circle of friends, one of New York Fire Department's finest, Captain James McCaffery dies with other heroes and innocents. Maria Gallagher, once engaged to marry Jimmy, is head of the Jimmy McCaffery Survivors Fund. 'New York Tribune' journalists Harry Randall and Laura Stone are in a relationship until his suicide off the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Harry published articles investigating crime-connected contributions to the McCaffery Fund. Laura believes that Harry's suicide was 'foul play' and pursues those who are connected.

Rozan's superb story stays with you long after the last page. The author's words cannot help but affect those who were not in Manhattan when the terror took hold, and reinforces and perhaps somehow comforts those who were there. Rozan writes about 9/11 that it 'took no remembering, permitted no forgetting'. Absent Friends is a read to be savored, and I look forward to the release of Rozan's next novel in the Spring of 2005.

2nd review by Melissa Parcel:

From the shadows of September 11, a hero emerged. James McCafferty, a NYC firefighter known to his co-workers as 'Superman' died while rescuing people from the World Trade Center. But a month later, after two newspaper articles laud McCafferty's heroics, a third article raises questions about his integrity.

Reporter Harry Randall insinuates that McCafferty was dirty, with ties to organized crime. Then Randall dies in an apparent suicide, which raises the eyebrows of Laura Stone, Randall's lover and a fellow journalist. Laura, who knows in her heart that Harry did not kill himself, makes it her mission to discover who murdered him and why. 'Jimmy' McCafferty's childhood friends remain close because of a tragedy that took place when they were young adults. A secret they have been keeping threatens to come to the surface due to Randall's article. Is there any evidence that Harry's death is murder? Will those Jimmy left behind discover a way to begin their lives again?

Much more than a mystery, this is a novel about September 11 and how it changed the people of America. The majority of the story takes place at the end of October in 2001, after the initial shock has worn off and New Yorkers are trying to figure out the direction of their lives. Jimmy only enters the story in flashbacks, yet his presence is felt throughout the entire book. He is one of the 'absent friends'. The contrast between Jimmy's friends and their quest to protect his memory (as well as their own secret) and Laura, who is single-mindedly pursuing Harry's murderer, is striking and fits perfectly into the confusion of Fall, 2001.

The sheer number of characters makes the first few chapters of the novel confusing - it's difficult to sort out who's who. The ultimate solution to the mystery and revelation of the secret is satisfying and ties up the story in a way I didn't anticipate. Readers seeking a thoughtful story will come away with a new understanding of their own reactions to the events of September 11. In Absent Friends, S. J. Rozan has written a stand alone novel that is worth taking quality time to read and ponder.

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