Richard W. Wise’s Redlined: A Novel of Boston is a suspenseful, well-structured mystery thriller by a writer well-versed in the genre. I was surprised at how quickly I read it: I just had to keep turning to the next page to find out what happened next!
In the opening scene, a young woman, Sandy Morgan, keeps watch over a building in a declining urban neighborhood that has been experiencing a rash of arson fires. She has been given this seemingly routine assignment by Jedediah Flynt, a local community organizer determined to save the neighborhood for the sake of the people living there. This scene depicting the grunt-work of community organizing then quickly shifts to the risks associated with it.
Sandy’s fate provides the driving force for Jedediah to uncover the source of the arsons and to what end they are being carried out. As the events in the novel unfold, the conspiracy is revealed to be Byzantine and the ends nefarious.
Redlined was inspired by the redlining of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston in the mid-1970s. Prior to picking up the book, I had never heard of the “redlining” of a declining urban neighborhood by banking institutions. The book incorporates the details of that particular business practice and the devastating effect it had on the lives of ordinary working people. Outside of its role in the plot, I found this historical information interesting in its own right and enjoyed learning about it.
Wise’s experience as a community organizer in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the 1970s is very much in evidence and lends the novel authenticity. (There’s a great conversation between the Jedediah and the recent Harvard graduate he hired as a researcher about the difference between strategies and tactics to accomplish social change–Byzantine in their own right!)
I also appreciated how well the settings are drawn, both exterior descriptions of Boston streets and buildings, as well as interior descriptions. I know that wainscoting and worn linoleum.
The highlight of Redlined for me was the role that the Roman Catholic Church plays in the novel. It suits the Boston setting, as well as the nature of the conspiracy at the center of the arsons, with echos of scandalous headlines and shades of characters from The Canterbury Tales. Monsignor Benedetti is a prelate who bears watching.
I’d highly recommend Redlined to aficionados of the mystery thriller genre, as well as readers with an interest in the history of Boston. A very entertaining read!