All I really wanted to do was finish my dissertation. I would have a PhD in urban history if I could ever get to the end of my work on how Brooklyn neighborhoods change. It seemed like a good idea when I began. Now, not so much. My questions kept turning up people who had secrets they were determined to keep hidden forever. And my own life kept happening too. I was a single mother of a lovely, exasperating teen-age girl. My old house badly needed work. My occasional romantic life was mostly confusing.
The biggest distraction was that those Brooklyn neighborhoods were changing so fast, I could not keep up. Chapters of my work seemed outdated before I even finished writing them. My advisor was insisting I draw a line on the research and get my conclusion written, but there was always something I could not pass up. Just one more issue. Or incident. Or development. Or mystery.
I should have listened to her. Instead I went to a community meeting about the ongoing fate of the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard. In recent decades, it had been famous only as the scary, hard to find place where New Yorkers retrieved impounded cars, but it had a long and glorious history. Great ships were built there, including the Maine and the Arizona. During World War II it was a powerful engine for victory, operating around the clock., employing 70,000 men and – most interesting- women too, real life Rosie the Riveters. What historian could ignore the efforts to bring it back to productive life? Not this historian.
So I went to the meeting and it was contentious from the start, a battleground of different Brooklyns. Hipsters, gentrifiers, project residents, they were all there. And this is Brooklyn. Everyone in Brooklyn has an opinion. Only when a tough, abusive old man took charge was it calm enough to hear the official speakers.
Before I left, I wanted to sneak a peek at the rest of the yard, a significant underused piece of prime New York real estate. I’ve had better ideas. In no time the noisy meeting was behind me and the six lanes of circling expressway traffic was out of sight and almost out of hearing. I was alone on a dimly –lit road beside ghostly, deserted buildings.
And then I wasn’t alone after all. I saw something I should not have seen, and the next sound I heard was my own voice screaming.
Someone died that night, a prominent man with a lot of enemies. I didn’t know, then, that I had a connection to some of them, that my daughter’s family history project would immerse me ever deeper me in a Navy Yard story, and that I was about to learn far more than I could write about in my dissertation.
You can read more about Erica in Brooklyn Wars, the fourth book in the “Erica Donato” mystery series.
From the earliest days of the Republic until the administration of LBJ, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was, proudly, both an arsenal of democracy, in FDR’s words, and the creator of 70,000 local jobs. In time it became best known as the scary place New Yorkers had to locate to rescue their impounded cars. And then it came back to life, but not without a war.
A public meeting becomes a battleground over plans to redevelop the once-proud Brooklyn Navy Yard. Local residents clamor for their own agenda in redeveloping 300 acres overlooking a sparkling downtown Manhattan, while business and real estate experts argue and city officials cower. Erica Donato, still writing her PhD dissertation about changes in city neighborhoods, witnesses the shocking murder of a power-broker that night on the Yard’s condemned Admirals’ Row.
Erica uncovers the dead man’s complicated history with the Yard, with his road to wealth and a high-flyer lifestyle, and with his wives and mistresses. When her daughter, Chris, visits her father’s relatives for a family history project, Erica goes along, and learns that the Donato clan was involved in the Navy Yard’s glory days and its slow, politics-ridden death. The story of Aunt Philomena, tall and blond, one of the proud Brooklyn girls who built ships in the Yard during World War II, captivates her. After the U.S. victory these women were told to give their jobs back to the men coming home. Philomena, so strong, so happy, mysteriously faded away and died young.
Under pressure to drop her chapter on the Naval Yard and finish her PhD dissertation on a final deadline, as well as from the police to step aside for safety, Erica once again discovers “what’s past is prologue” to murder. . .and to her life.
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About the author
Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. She writes mysteries about different Brooklyn neighborhoods and their unique histories, in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. In the new book, Brooklyn Wars, murder gets in the way as heroine, Erica Donato researches the proud history and slow death of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of one of the first three books (Brooklyn Bones, Brooklyn Graves or Brooklyn Secrets) in the “Erica Donato” series, (U.S. residents only), winner’s choice. The giveaway will end August 9, 2017. Good luck everyone!