Mid-December 2008. Barack Obama has just been elected; all New York is ecstatic, especially Harlem. On a freezing night a few weeks later, detective Artie Cohen gets a late call from his ex girlfriend, Lily Hanes, begging for his help. Lily has been living at the Louis Armstrong Apartments, one of Harlem’s great buildings, while working on Obama’s campaign; now her Russian neighbor, Marianna Simonova, has died, and Lily fears she’s at fault and needs Artie’s Russian connections. Over a weekend when the city is locked in by snow and cold, with the financial markets tanking, one after another people at the Armstrong die. Artie, out of his element, a white detective in a black world, is drawn inexorably into the realm of Sugar Hill and the Armstrong, where almost everybody except for the real estate developers seems locked in the past…
Praise for “Blood Count”
Reggie Nadelson has a real feel for the sources of life in the New York neighborhoods she celebrates in her vibrant mysteries featuring Artie Cohen, a Russian-born detective who knows the city with the intimacy of a lover. Nadelson sends Artie to Harlem in BLOOD COUNT (Walker, $26), initially to feel the pulse of the district on the night Barack Obama is elected president, and later to help a friend cope with the suspicious death of an old Russian woman at the Louis Armstrong Apartments in Sugar Hill.
This grand old building, perpetually besieged by opportunistic developers, is more than an attractive murder setting. It’s also a stage where the elderly residents can regale Artie with wonderful accounts of legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Strayhorn. Even the stories that lack a pivotal function in the plot, like the reverential one about Paul Robeson, contribute to the broader message: that some neighborhoods can always find hope in a dream.
– Marilyn Stasio NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
From the opening scene to the final pages, BLOOD COUNT is an immensely satisfying read. What this novel does that so many others fail to do is completely engage readers in the story and its characters. Detective Artie Cohen, a Russian immigrant himself, is called to help translate a Russian document pinned by knife to a dead body. This will be only the first of several murders in this intriguing mystery.
More disturbing is a call he soon receives from his former girlfriend (for whom he still pines). She has discovered her Russian neighbor is dead, and she is desperate for Artie’s help, blaming herself for the death. The death is just one of many that populate this novel, all set in the historic Louis Armstrong Apartments on Sugar Hill in Harlem.
What author Reggie Nadelson does so well is truly engage readers with her flawed but fascinating characters. Each resident has a history and traits that make them suspicious yet fascinating. The Louis Armstrong building residents seem to form a small village, with plenty of gossip and backstory to make them characters we want to learn more about. As Nadelson metes out the clues, the motives seem to point in new directions at important turning points, never giving away too much of the final truth.
Even without the mystery, readers would surely be drawn in by the lives of these characters and the history of their neighborhood over the years. Setting the novel shortly after the Obama election keeps it fresh and contemporary, easy to relate to.
Then there is Artie Cohen himself, a detective who can’t set aside his natural inclination for hunting down the truth, even if it reveals something about Lily he doesn’t want to know. There’s the struggle to get along with Lily’s new boyfriend, another detective with whom he must work the murder cases. There’s the pursuit to win the girl back. And there is the struggle in Artie’s own life, as the case raises old memories of Russia and his own family.
BLOOD COUNT is a captivating mystery novel on every level. It takes on an interesting area of New York, Harlem, and its history, interweaving that with the Russian immigrant experience. It gets to the heart of human relationships and human frailties. In addition, it presents aged characters (those well past retirement) in a very accessible, multidimensional light. Kudos to Nadelson for a job well done on every level in BLOOD COUNT. It’s a mystery well worth reading.
REVIEWING THE EVIDENCE.com
Set in December 2008, Nadelson’s ninth mystery featuring Russian émigré and NYPD detective Artie Cohen (after 2009’s Londongrad) shows her at the top of her game. Cohen is roused in the middle of the night by a call from a former girlfriend, journalist Lily Hanes, who asks for his help dealing with a dead neighbor, Marianna Simonova. Despite Hanes’s claim that Simonova died of natural causes in her Harlem apartment, Cohen suspects Hanes isn’t telling him everything. When his digging reveals that another elderly resident of Simonova’s building died unexpectedly about six months earlier, he wonders whether a desire to spare the seriously ill suffering was behind both deaths. Alternatively, the tenants may have been in the way of an ambitious developer’s plans to upgrade the building. Nadelson has few peers at incorporating a strong whodunit plot into a contemporary police inquiry, but her real strength is Cohen himself, a tortured but sympathetic soul whose close relationships are never straightforward
Artie Cohen’s Harlem Whodunit
Salman Rushdie: “Down those mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean.” Where does Artie Cohen stand in the moral spectrum of literary private eyes?
Reggie Nadelson: As a detective, Artie Cohen probably shares some DNA with Philip Marlowe, George Smiley, Arkady Renko. He probably yearns to add a bit of Harry Bosch. In the U.S.S.R., where he grew up, his father was a K.G.B. officer, and Artie knows in his gut the moral ambiguity of the universe and what it does to people. In Blood Count, set in Harlem, he finds that African-Americans, like Soviets, behave one way in private, another in the world.
Artie, who is an N.Y.P.D. detective but often works solo like a P.I., also feels if what you see on the job—murder, trafficking—doesn’t make you sick, it’s time to quit. He’s haunted by guilt, with wounds that never really heal. He’s also a good-looking guy who likes women too much, and loves the camaraderie of the station house. Out of all the ambiguity and conflict only one thing is certain: friends matter most, even more than morality. Somebody once said to me that Artie is so flawed you yearn for him to win.
You spent a long time living in London… How does that color your picture of New York?
I’ve lived in London on and off for almost 30 years, as student, and journalist, commuting back and forth to New York, where I was born and raised. Living abroad always sharpens your view of home.
I’ve watched London evolve from an insular, faintly genteel place that was somehow also seditious, literary, and scruffy, to an open-all-night city gone mad from too much money, where the discrepancy between rich and poor is the biggest in any Western city, crime is rising, and the tabloid press truly ugly. In an odd way, it’s become more like the New York of popular imagination. By contrast, New York feels tougher and sweet and—don’t laugh—safer, more welcoming and polite. I’ve fallen back in love with my own city as a result of living in London.
The great thriller writers use the form to make a portrait of the underbelly of a city or a society. What’s going on down there that you still want to explore?
All my books have been in part or whole set on the fringes of New York, call it the underbelly—Brighton Beach when Russian crime still had a stranglehold, the Red Hook docks, the Fresh Kills garbage dumps, the broken industrial fringes of a New York in flux. But the physical city is always a reflection of and context for the culture and the crime. I think the wild ethnic landscape of Queens is ripe for exploration; the Bronx too. And there’s Manhattan—greed, need, desire, poverty. Look down from the dazzling skyline, it’s all underbelly. After nine books set all over the city, Artie, whose biggest love is New York, is a kind of explorer among the ruins.