By Michelle Martinez
For more than 150 years, Central Park has been delighting New
Yorkers and visitors from around the world with its 250 acres of
lush green lawns, 136 acres of woodlands and seven bodies of water
that serve as an oasis from the daily hustle and bustle of life in
the Big Apple.
On any given day, people can be found in
the park playing with children, jogging, reading or walking their
pets. But there's a dark, criminal side to Central Park that can't
be avoided when more than 25 million visitors enter its grounds each
year — especially at night. And perhaps there's no one more
knowledgeable to tell those stories in a fictionalized format than
New York City federal prosecutor-turned-author Michele Martinez.
Martinez burst onto
the literary scene two years ago with the publication of her widely
praised debut novel "Most Wanted," which introduces us to federal
prosecutor Melanie Vargas. Vargas is a smart, beautiful woman of
Puerto Rican descent who must juggle a newborn baby, a rocky
marriage, a handsome G-man assigned to assist her and a complicated
case where the killer soon sets his sights on her.
in Martinez's 2006 sophomore novel "The Finishing School," one year
older, bolder and wiser, still solving crimes with beauty, brains
and brawn. The action is intense and fast-paced, as Vargas must go
undercover in New York City and travel to Puerto Rico to solve a
crime committed by a scheming murderer who has no intentions of
Cover-Up, Martinez's third novel featuring Vargas. She's a
now-divorced single parent yearning for love but pressured to make
time to handle a horrific murder in Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Suzanne Shepard, a glamorous scandalmonger and television
personality, has been viciously raped and stabbed near the 79th
Street entrance to Central Park, and all the physical evidence at
the scene points to a random sex crime, but the viciousness of the
attack suggests otherwise:
"Suzanne Shepard's mouth,
visible through strips of blood-smeared plastic packing tape, was
twisted into a grimace of the starkest horror. Her blue eyes were
open and vacant, but wide with shock, and the black blood that had
sprayed up to dot her face looked like so many flies swarming. She'd
died in agony; you could see it in her expression, and yet the cool,
beautiful TV star was still recognizable in the gruesome corpse."
Across town, Vargas
and her favorite FBI agent and potential suitor, Dan O'Reilly, are
getting hot and heavy on her living-room sofa after dinner when
O'Reilly's pager summons them to the park. Once there, Vargas
discovers the assistant district attorney has a weak stomach that
needs attention after viewing the gruesome aftermath of the murder.
Therefore, the case goes to Vargas by default since the
investigation is deemed to be a joint state-federal case by law
enforcement authorities at the scene.
Vargas races to solve the crime and capture the criminal that
the tabloid media has dubbed the "Central Park Butcher" in order
to put the public at ease. Quickly she finds herself in the
midst of a high-society scandal intermixed with characters such
as a personal trainer who's selling recreational drugs to his
clients, a devious Park Avenue plastic surgeon who may be doing
more than making the rich look younger and sexier, and an online
stalker who may be the killer following all her moves.
Martinez hypnotically holds the reader's attention by moving the
action at breakneck speed, never stopping for speed bumps or
coffee breaks. Her years of experience as a federal prosecutor,
where she handled cases involving murders, kidnappings, home
invasions and other acts of violence, give her writing
credibility and her book a strong dose of stark reality that
carries the novel to the upper echelon of suspense thrillers.
Cover-Up firmly establishes Martinez as an author not to
be ignored in the company of suspense novelists. Don't try to
compare her to other writers of the genre — Martinez's work
stands on its own merit and promises to be the yardstick others
will be measured against for years to come.
Vincent Bosquez is president of the Society of
Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio.