Welcome to Brooklyn, part of New York City but with an attitude and a history all its own. It could be its own city (and was) and yet, it is also a collection of neighborhoods that are a lot like small towns. That insight inspired a mystery series set in different Brooklyn neighborhoods, linking modern day crime with the ever-present, ever-elusive past.
From beautiful Park Slope brownstones to the Jewish gangsters of Brownsville to the always current tensions between old and new groups of immigrants, Brooklyn has great stories and Erica Donato is the person to tell them.
She is a daughter of Brooklyn whose life has taken her many miles from home, if only mentally. She is an urban historian and a young single mom of a teen-age girl, with a shabby house at the ungentrified end of a trendy neighborhood. She keeps it together, just barely, with Brooklyn grit, Brooklyn humor and some good friends. Her career as an urban historian brings her to Brooklyn's checkered past and its modern crimes. Come join her in her adventures all around her hometown.
Murder strikes the neighborhoods of Brooklyn—the hip, the historic, and the hood
The search for a lost portrait of Brooklyn's own genius Walt Whitman sends urban historian Dr. Erica Donato into Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood of quaint and charming streets, family names out of history, and spectacular views of the harbor and the world-famous bridge. New York's first suburb has long weathered political battles about neighborhood preservation and destruction. Is a new one shaping up?
Erica meets an idol, fiery community activist Louisa Gibbs, now locked in a dispute with the Watch Tower Society. One of Brooklyn's biggest landowners, the Jehovah's Witnesses are selling off their holdings. Then at a glittering party, Erica meets the threatening Prinzig clan who are trying to buy the Witness's property adjoining Louisa's historic home.
The discovery of the Society's Daniel Towns' body in the Witnesses' underground tunnels reignites old conflicts. Erica learns Louisa has made bitter enemies in her time while she becomes steadily better acquainted with a collection of characters young and old, sane and not-so-sane, living and dead. They all carry bitter secrets and old enmities.
The beautiful setting only hides them. Can Erica use her research expertise to expose a killer?
Poisoned Pen Press, paperback, December 2019, ISBN: 9781492699347
"Stein's sure hand weaves history and mystery together for a colorful tale of love, loss, greed, and murder."
The once great, later abandoned, Brooklyn Navy Yard was in the throes of rebirth. All Erica set out to do was attend a community meeting about some proposed changes and so witness history in the making. She wanted to include a chapter about the Navy Yard in her dissertation about changing Brooklyn. She wasn't expecting to witness the murder of a widely disliked city official. She wasn't expecting to learn she has a link to the murdered man's ex-wife or to be contacted by the one person who might miss him. And in the meantime, her adviser her wants her to skip the chapter altogether, her mother-in-law wants her to research an aunt who repaired ships at the wartime Yard and her daughter only wants to talk about her sweet sixteen party.
Poisoned Pen Press, paperback, August 2017, ISBN: 9781464207198
"Brooklyn's rich history comes to life in Stein's wonderful descriptions, and Erica is an engaging tour guide."
Erica Donato, Brooklyn girl, urban history grad student and single mom, is researching the 1930s when Brownsville was the home of the notorious organized criminals the newspapers called Murder Inc. She quickly learns that even in rapidly changing Brooklyn, Brownsville remains much as it was. It is still poor, it is still tough, and it still breeds fighters and gangs. Doing field research, Erica stops in at the landmark local library and meets Savanna, a young woman who is the pride of her mother and her bosses, and headed for an elite college and a future. A few days later, Savanna is found beaten and left for dead. Her anguished mother is everywhere, insisting someone knows something. After a massive, angry demonstration, a young girlfriend of Savanna's is found dead, too. Is there a connection? Did perfect Savanna have a few secrets? Erica's curious. But she's focused on the 1930s and has located two elderly women who are happy to share memories. They are childhood friends who disagree on much but guard secrets, too—ones kept for a lifetime. Never one to resist looking deeper than her research requires, Erica keeps encountering an apparent derelict white man, a vengeful rejected girlfriend, the role of boxing as a way out of poverty, and fading evidence of long-ago crimes.
Poisoned Pen Press, paperback, December 2015, ISBN: 9781464204128
"Stein gives an economical but vivid sense of Erica's Brooklyn neighborhood, and the characterization is wonderful—especially the wryly self-aware narrator's recognition of how much her own confusion is mirrored in her daughter's behavior."
A brutally murdered friend who was a family man with not an enemy in the world. A box full of charming letters home, written a century ago by an unknown young woman working at the famed Tiffany studios. Historic Green-Wood cemetery, where a decrepit mausoleum with stunning stained glass windows is now off limits, even to a famed art historian.
Suddenly, all of this, from the tragic to the merely eccentric, becomes part of Erica Donato's life. She is a close friend of the murdered man's family and feels compelled to help them. She is arbitrarily assigned to catalogue the valuable letters for an arrogant expert visiting the history museum where she works. She is the person who took that same expert to see the mausoleum windows.
Her life is full enough. She doesn't need more responsibility, but she gets it anyway as secrets start emerging in the most unexpected places: an admirable life was not what it seemed, confiding letters conceal their most important story and too many people have hidden agendas.
In Brooklyn Graves a story of old families, old loves and hidden ties merges with new crimes and the true value of art, against the background of the splendid old cemetery and the life of modern Brooklyn.
Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, March 2014, ISBN: 9781464202179
"Family ties lie at the heart of this book, and the way they are woven into the mystery will be sure to surprise."
Erica is a youngish single mother and oldish history grad student, keeping it all together with street Brooklyn attitude and grit. As they are working on her unrenovated home at the ungentrified end of trendy Park Slope, her teen-aged daughter uncovers a body. They are horrified when they realize it was another teen-age girl. The body has been buried long enough to be impossible to identify—but not so long that there aren't people around who know all the answers. And intend to keep them a secret. This is the first story about Erica, whose work as an urban historian leads her to old and new crimes in Brooklyn's ever diverse and changing neighborhoods.
Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, February 2013, ISBN: 9781464201202