Academics blends with police work in ‘Crooked Numbers’

'Crooked Numbers' by Tim O'Mara (Minotaur; 320 pages; $29.99)
'Crooked Numbers' by Tim O'Mara (Minotaur; 320 pages; $29.99)

Tim O’Mara gives the academic mystery — too long mired in the machinations of university politics — a fresh view by imbuing it with elements of the police procedural. Instead of the usual disagreements and one-upmanship among professors and deans, O’Mara’s intricate plot delivers an exciting look at the inner workings of education and the economic boundaries that separate people.

The difference is O’Mara’s unusual hero — Raymond Donne, a former NYPD detective turned middle-school teacher in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Introduced in last year’s gripping Sacrifice Fly, Raymond is a complex character who has found a fresh start as a teacher. For Raymond, the jobs of a cop and of a teacher often intertwine as both are interested in doing the right thing, whether it is on the streets or in the classroom. Both careers can be a powerful influence.

Raymond’s past and present again meld in Crooked Numbers. Although his new position as a middle-school dean has taken him momentarily away from grading papers, Raymond is still vitally interested in his students, even when they transfer to a better school. Raymond was pleased when one of his former students, Douglas Lee, received a scholarship to a private school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But just before his 17th birthday, Doug is murdered. Police believe he is just another inner city kid lost to the gangs and drugs. With a promise to the teen’s grieving mother to look into the murder, Raymond finds evidence pointing to other motives.

O’Mara delivers an intricate but believable plot enhanced by strong characters. Because he is no longer a cop, Raymond must devise new investigative skills.

Once again, O’Mara goes to the head of the class with the intriguing Crooked Numbers.