Box of Rain
A Street Stories Suspense Novel
by Debra R. Borys
Box of Rain is the third in a series of “Street Stories” suspense novels focusing on the gritty side of Chicago. In this briskly paced story, Debra Borys weaves together two narratives: one about a young black man falsely suspected of murder and on the run from police, the other about a reporter on the case as she grapples with her father’s dubious past.
Borys draws on years of experience volunteering to help vulnerable youths and adults in Chicago. Apparently, nothing is ever quite what it seems to be in this hard luck world. Serious issues regarding race and law enforcement lend some weight to this otherwise lively whodunit.
When an innocent young man stumbles across a gruesome crime scene, he chooses to avoid the police. He fears he will not be believed. He has no parents or family to help him. He could turn to community volunteers, foster parents, friends, or kind-hearted individuals. But as it turns out, this network of care can be a labyrinth for young people in distress.
The characters are lightly but clearly sketched in their precarious situations and there are several nuanced angles to the story. For instance, not all of the people striving to help these young men are thoroughly “good.” Many show traces of both compassion and stubbornness or even ruthless greed. The young men themselves are far from perfect. The police show both concern and callousness. The reporter has more than her share of doubts about the young men; she is not their unfailing champion. Personal problems leave her irritable and sharp-tongued—a possible hindrance in her investigation. All this adds up to poor odds for a young man mired in a major criminal case.
Borys skillfully switches between perspectives at a rapid pace while maintaining a solid narrative structure. Though it is part of a series (with the reporter Jo Sullivan and her family mystery binding everything together), the story of Booker T Brooks is self-contained and reaches a satisfying conclusion. There are just a handful of editing missteps, most notably the habitual use of “must of” and “would of” (for “must’ve” and “would’ve”). It is regrettably unclear whether the author means to reflect how the characters think it should be spelled or whether their oral elision has been transcribed incorrectly; in either case, Borys perpetuates this woeful grammatical error unnecessarily. On the whole however, the prose is clear and effective; the dialogue, which is sometimes watered down, has at least an air of authenticity.
With recent news of the deaths of Laquan McDonald and many others, some may notice that police brutality in this novel receives relatively little attention. It feels like an opportunity missed, but it was clearly by design. This quick-paced, sometimes dark, but ultimately good-hearted novel aims for light entertainment with a straightforward message, not unlike the spirited Chicago detective novels of Sarah Paretsky. Box of Rain will not surprise those familiar with the problems between young black men and law enforcement. But with its tightly knit plot and a few good twists, this novel may be recommended for YA and general readers curious about how unconscious biases can lead to vicious cycles of distrust.
March 2015, New Libri Press
$14.95, paperback, 223 pages
—Reviewed by Vicky Albritton