Book: The Death of an Amiable Child

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The Death of an Amiable Child: An Anita Servi Mystery

Author: Irene Marcuse
Publisher: Walker & Company

Gone, but not Forgotten.

When Manhattan social worker Anita Servi stumbles over the body of an elderly female outside her apartment, she recognizes her as Lillian, the homeless person who spent occasional nights in the hallway and whom some tenants call the “lady of the landing.”

Though the woman’s death is ruled accidental, Anita, whose work with New York’s elderly gives her uncanny insight into their lives—and deaths—digs deeper into Lillian’s murky past and makes some stunning discoveries. Why did Lillian choose this building as a place to sleep? And why, despite her wealth, did she need to be homeless? As Anita, uncovers the shocking answers, the dark and dangerous face of a killer emerges, determined to make sure Anita takes the truth to her grave.


Irene Marcuse's first novel is a delicately delineated triumph, a quiet mystery that revolves around character and setting rather than hotly pursued clues and frantic detection. Anita Servi, a Manhattan social worker, has made a career of tending to the city's elderly. Crippled by arthritis, plagued by shrinking Social Security checks, relegated to dilapidated residence hotels that, with their fading paint and chipped brickwork, "look like the eccentric aunt who didn't get invited to the wedding over on Broadway," her clients still amaze her with their resilience. All the more shocking, then, for Anita and her daughter Clea to stumble over the body of Lillian Raines on their apartment landing. A former client, now homeless, the frail but dignified "Lady of the Landing" had become a fixture in their daily lives. Though the police term Lillian's death an accident, Anita is unconvinced. As she digs deeper into the old woman's shadowy past, ancient grievances come to light, weaving the fixtures of Anita's life--friends, neighbors, clients, coworkers--into an uneasy web of deception and murder. When more elderly women are threatened, it's up to Anita to unravel the tangled threads.

The sights, sounds, and smells of New York's Upper West Side permeate the book. The city bustles and hums, stretching out before Anita and the reader in an intoxicating, vibrant landscape: "Broadway, the street, puts on as good a show as any theater on the Great White Way. One time, Catherine and I saw a tall black man gamboling around in nothing but a pair of red wool socks. Two cops chased after him, lumbering hippos to his graceful gazelle. It made both our days. Who needs TV talk shows?" For all of its pollution and poverty, New York, through Anita's eyes, softens into an appealingly ungainly, overgrown village. It's the kind of place where all one's creature comforts and quotidian rituals may be satisfied in just a few square blocks, where anonymity gives way to recognition.

Marcuse's affectionately drawn characters, canny dialogue, and adept sense of pace set The Death of an Amiable Child far above the usual cadre of earnest but awkward first novels. Readers should look forward with eager anticipation to Anita Servi's next urban appearance. --Kelly Flynn

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