Onyx reviews: If You Were Here by
As the old saying goes, you aren't paranoid if people really are out to get
Ten years ago, McKenna Jordan was an assistant district attorney who got to
work on a high-profile case: the prosecution of a white police officer who was
accused of shooting a black man. Though it seemed like self-defense (the dead
man was holding a gun), McKenna pursued a line of inquiry that led her to
believe that the officer had planted the weapon. Her zeal caused a rift in the
community and escalated racial tensions. However, she was ultimately discredited
and left the DA's office in disgrace.
Now she's facing a similar dilemma. Some of the research she relied upon for
an article she wrote for a high-profile magazine that exposed wrongdoing by a
sitting judge is revealed to be fabricated. Worse, the evidence indicates that
it was McKenna who falsified the damning emails. Once again she is a pariah in
her profession and she can only wonder why.
Two things happened recently that might help her figure out why someone is
using smear tactics against her. She published a long article about the
decade-old case and her part in it, which may have reawakened some old
animosities. Then she sees cell phone video from an incident in the subway where
a woman rescued a teenager who had fallen onto the tracks. McKenna is convinced
that the woman is Susan Hauptmann, a former friend and one-time roommate who
vanished without a trace, also ten years ago.
Even those close to her think she's reading too much into a grainy video, but
McKenna won't be dissuaded from her belief. Though she believed at the time that
Susan would never have disappeared voluntarily and must therefore be dead, she
now thinks she was wrong. As she digs deeper, she also learns that she needs to
reevaluate her impressions of Susan's character. How well did she really know
Her first tangible indication that someone wants to discourage her from
pursuing the subway incident is that the online storage site housing the video
is hacked and all traces of the video eliminated. The fact that the security
cameras in the subway station all malfunctioned during the time in question is
also highly suspicious.
McKenna loses her job, but she has the skills and determination of a
prosecutor coupled with the tenacity of an investigative reporter, so she
doesn't take the situation lying down. Leads are hard to come by, and someone is
cleaning up the remaining clues efficiently. When she makes inquiries into an
eco-terrorism group because of a logo she made out in the deleted video, she
becomes the target of a federal investigation. She can't win for losing.
The novel is told almost exclusively from McKenna's point of view. She's a
determined character who readers will root for. A straight-shooter who has a
strong relationship with her husband; however, once the paranoia sets in, even
he falls under suspicion of being complicit in the scheme against her. Burke is
confident in her characterization and in her setting, Manhattan, a place she
clearly knows and loves. As a former prosecutor, she also knows all the legal
angles. She keeps the book's pace at breakneck speed, using five-page chapters
with hooky endings to propel readers along.
If You Were Here is a complicated novel, and very little is exactly
what it seems to be. The truth behind the conspiracy has layer upon layer. Any
time readers starts feeling like they have the whole thing worked out, they
should think again. At a certain point, it looks like all the cards are on the
table, but the fact that there are still twenty or thirty pages remaining are
proof that Burke (daughter of crime writer James Lee Burke) still has a few
tricks left up her sleeve.
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