“The girl next door” is a term coined to conjure visions of wholesomeness, dependability, trustworthiness. The girl next door is the girl you know your mother will approve. She’s hardworking, willing to sacrifice for family, friends, and community.
Carter Ross, reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner, is at a loss for a story. He resorts to the time-honored source of fact and fiction, the obituaries. Among Irish-Americans, these are referred to as the Irish sports pages. The Irish don’t take death lightly. Reading the death notices has a serious purpose. Each generation is raised to know that they have obligations to honor the dead, offer comfort to the family, and pray for the soul of the deceased. If ever you see an older man, in the middle of the day, dressed in suit and tie, carrying a white envelope, it is a good bet he is on his way to a wake. The recitation of the Rosary has gone out of favor, but at some point during the wake of a Catholic, a priest will arrive to lead the mourners in the Rosary.
Some may have heard that Irish wakes are parties. Today, wakes conform to the hours convenient for the funeral home but fifty years ago, people were waked from their homes. The body of the deceased would be prepared for burial and brought to the home about 36 hours before the funeral. From that moment until the body was removed for the trip to the church, it was not alone. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow parishioners would sign up to sit with the body and pray. Men generally signed up for the hours after midnight. Friends and neighbors took on the responsibility of ensuring that there was food for those who stayed.
A wake was a commitment to prayer so the stories about Irish wakes being alcohol fueled parties is greatly exaggerated and people weren’t always praying. A wake was an opportunity to rekindle relationships with relatives and friends that one only saw at wakes and weddings and “other fancy stuff” as the Clancy brothers sang. So there was a lot of reminiscing, the telling of stories.
Nancy Marino was 42 years old when she was killed in a hit-and-run accident. She worked two jobs and owned her home. One of her jobs required she get up at 3:30 in the morning to deliver the Newark Eagle-Examiner and it was while doing this job that she died. Carter decides to expand the few lines of Nancy’s obit into a human interest story. He attends the wake hoping to get some quotes from family and friends to flesh out the story. He is clearly not welcome but that night Carter receives a call from one of Nancy’s sisters. She has no doubt that Nancy’s accident was, instead, a deliberate act.
Brad Parks tells a story about an ordinary woman that will grab the reader from the first page. It is also the story of the US economy. The Newark Eagle-Examiner is fighting for its life. Newark is fighting for its life. And Nancy is doing what she has to do to keep her head above water. She is also a union representative and Carter decides to take on the publisher of the paper. Carter decides Nancy’s death is a labor dispute.
All three books in the Carter Ross series are worth reading. THE GIRL NEXT DOOR has the added attraction of Lunky, Carter’s grossly misjudged intern. Parks writes laugh-out-loud funny situations and dialogue and never strays from the serious business of presenting the reasonable resolution of the murder of a woman just like someone we all know.