Hanover Square Press, $26.99, 330 pages, ISBN 978-1-335-21872-8
Gentrification is a recently coined term that describes the displacement of blue collar, working-class residents from their long established city neighborhoods by newer and wealthier persons who’ve moved in and bought houses where the people with less money used to live. It’s a contributing cause of homelessness, and it’s happening in every major city in America. One of the most notable examples is found in New York City, where whole neighborhoods are being gobbled up and their character destroyed by huge influxes of hip, upwardly mobile and prosperous move-ins. The social friction and unrest caused by that kind of displacement is the subject of a compelling and thoughtfully written debut novel that combines social commentary with dramatic crime fiction.
Restoration Heights, by Wil Medearis, takes place in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. It’s where we meet Reddick, a white guy living in the traditionally black neighborhood that’s deep in the throes of gentrification. Reddick’s a struggling artist, drawn to the area eight years earlier by the cheap rent and large studio spaces. He makes his expense and rent money working as an art handler, where he installs, takes down, crates up and stores, priceless works of art for some of the city’s richest families. As such, he rubs elbows with both the ultra-rich, as well as the ultra-average black citizens with whom he plays basketball at the local YMCA every spare moment. By accident, Reddick is the last person to see Hannah, the fiancé of Buckley Seward, heir to the largest fortune of the entire art-collecting community in New York. When the Seward family refuses to call in the police, Reddick takes it upon himself to solve the young woman’s disappearance and possible murder. This simple act of compassion and caring about a seemingly disposable person puts Reddick deep into the cross-currents and riptides of high society where wealth and power and influence trump all; where face and social standing are more important than the lives of common folk. It’s where the brine is deep and money-fueled megalodons prey upon the unprepared and the unwary. Restoration Heights is a startling, complex and auspicious first novel from a young wordsmith who’s bound to become a force in the literary world!