Municipal Government

Race, Class & Murder on Long Island

February 25, 2016
By Bill Hohlfeld  

Mark Torres, Local 810 Attorney and Author

A Review of: A Stirring in the North Fork by Mark Torres

Long Island, NY  A pretty maid working for an uber rich family on Shelter Island gets fired, then murdered, and nobody seems to care much about it. It stays that way for four long decades until unemployed attorney, Savoy Graves stumbles upon the situation and decides to do something about it. Armed only with an overwhelming curiosity and a strong sense of social justice, fueled by his own working class roots. He becomes obsessed with the need to uncover the truth about the dead, and somehow make it right for the living.

Mr. Torres, himself a local labor attorney, tells a spellbinding tale which keeps his audience in a page turning mode. It is a timely piece of fiction. In an election year during which the limelight is being stolen from establishment candidates by a billionaire real estate developer and a socialist senator, the book reverberates with our current discussions of income and wealth inequality. Any reader who has ever walked the streets of Sunnyside,Queens, feeling the blistering heat of an August afternoon, then gotten away to the Hamptons for a weekend, will appreciate how the distance between the two, often seem more like light years than a mere hundred or so miles. In a city where affordable housing seems more like a dream than a reality, the vision of 9,200 square foot mansions loom large indeed.

The novel also takes into account the issue of race on two levels. It depicts the overt hatred of an uncompromising bigot. That is a character who many of us find easy to recognize. But it also raises the issue of a more insidious type of racial inequality, the type that keeps even nice people from caring as deeply when tragic events befall those of a different color or ethnicity. 

In addition to an engrossing story line, there is a neat and inviting pattern to the investigations of the protagonist. His methodical approach to peeling the layers of a forty year old onion keeps us engaged and rooting for him. The legal aspects of the case are intriguing as well, due to their verisimilitude.That is because Mr.Torres himself is no stranger to the law. As general counsel for Local 810 for almost seven years, he has made a career of interpreting its meaning for the good of the Teamsters and its members. Justice for working people of all colors is obviously as much a part of his own everyday life as it is of his invented investigator. There is also a wry touch of irony added to the mix, in that the fictional attorney only has the opportunity to set out on his quest because his world has been shattered by the same corporate class that he is about to investigate and expose.

 The characters in A Stirring in North Fork  are both believable and, for the most part, likable. They are the people with whom we ride the subway, spend our days and sit down to dinner. Most importantly for a first novel, they are people we hope to meet again some day. That is a huge plus because there is little doubt that Savoy Graves will continue to find justice for those least able to do it for themselves, in the same manner that Mr. Torres will continue to seek justice for his brother teamsters.

February 24, 2016

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