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'Takes One to Know One' review: Great opener for Susan Isaacs' new sleuth

Susan Isaacsm author of "Takes One to Know

Susan Isaacsm author of "Takes One to Know One," at her home in Sands Point. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE by Susan Isaacs (Grove Atlantic, 288 pp., $26).

What is it that makes Susan Isaacs' books so delicious to read? She’s funny, for starters. And that humor combined with romance and old-fashioned murder mystery tickles every feel-good bone in our bodies. Her characters are whole and flawed and lovable, and you want only the best for them, even as you ardently wish to find them in danger — repeatedly — along the way.

Isaacs, who lives in Sands Point, hit the big time in 1978 with her debut "Compromising Positions." It was the story of Judith Singer, a smart, bored Long Island housewife who becomes enmeshed in the investigation of the murder of a local periodontist and discovers a gift for detective work — and develops an affinity for the lead homicide detective. It is a classic voyage of discovery: the person seeking answers to a mystery discovers her own better self. Witty, perfectly paced, with just enough danger to temper the romance, the novel became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon and Raul Julia. Isaacs, former president of the Mystery Writers of America, has been a major league writer ever since.

In “Takes One to Know One,” her 15th novel, Isaacs introduces us to a new detective, semiretired FBI counterterrorism agent Corie Geller who lives on Long Island. Corie combines a background in Arabic literature with a nose for what doesn’t seem exactly right, a delicious resumé that should set her up nicely for continuing adventures.

Corie is newly married to a widowed judge named Josh and fully committed to mothering his 14-year-old daughter. In addition, Corie works as a freelance book screener for a number of literary agencies interested in Arabic writers (that Corie considers this a viable job may feel somewhat implausible for publishing freelancers). Perfect marriage to a perfect guy, loads of money, a stepdaughter who loves her — life should be blissful. And it is. It’s a little dull, too — echoes of Singer and other Isaacs heroines, women who want more than a safe, picture-perfect life. Women who can’t help the way they hunger for adventure.

Each Wednesday, Corie has lunch at a French restaurant in Shorehaven with a group of local freelancers, a way of making connections in her new community that has, so far, failed to generate any true friendships. What it has generated is a sense of suspicion about one of her fellow freelancers, a packaging designer named Pete Delaney who combines a total lack of personality with some odd behavioral habits. He insists on sitting in the same seat at lunch, gaze fixated on his otherwise uninteresting SUV. “As I watched each week, his eyes always returned to one spot in the parking lot: wherever his car happened to be. Weird.” And it seems as if he has a new cellphone every week, too. What is Pete so worried about?

Corie’s training tells her it’s more than simple oddness. “‘When something strikes you as weird,’ one of the instructors at the academy in Quantico told us, ‘do you say, “Now isn’t that something?” No. Course not.’” Maybe she’s making it up because she’s bored. Or maybe because Corie, too, has a secret (her FBI work), she recognizes Pete is hiding something real. And maybe it’s a useful way to engage her retired cop father in an investigatory game, a way of luring him out of the depression that has plagued him since he lost his partner on 9/11. In any case, Corie is off on her adventure, and we follow her story with pleasure, secure in the expectation that the generous Susan Isaacs will provide us with a humane, endearing resolution.

In our overwhelming world, it can feel exhausting to step into a book. If the real world is rife with evil, why would reading about fictional crime provide solace? And yet I think that’s precisely what a Susan Isaacs novel is for, a safe trip into danger and back again that takes the edge off the worries that beset us. A solved mystery is a set of facts, none of them “alternative.” Describing a particular Arabic novel to her Wednesday lunch group, Corie Geller says, “Crime fiction is a way for writers to challenge the powers that be. It talks about injustice.” In Isaacs’ capable hands, crime is solvable and good wins out. Injustice loses and we, the readers, win.

WHAT Friends of the Library presents Susan Isaacs who will talk about and sign copies of "Takes One to Know One."

WHEN | WHERE 2:30 p.m. Oct. 6, Port Washington Public Library, 1 Library Dr.

INFO Free; 516-883-4400, pwpl.org

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