Since 1978, when her debut novel, "Compromising Positions," became a Book of the Month Club pick and soon after a bestseller, Susan Isaacs has reigned over the genre she invented — the Long Island Jewish woman's comic thriller.
With her 15th novel, "Bad Bad Seymour Brown" (Atlantic Monthly Press, $28), which comes out May 2, Isaacs has done something new — she's published a sequel. It's the second installment of a series she plans to stick with for the foreseeable future, she said in a Zoom interview from her home in Sands Point.
Corie Geller, the retired FBI agent introduced in "It Takes One to Know One" (2019), is recovering physically and psychologically from the nightmarish experiences she faced in her debut. Her parents moved in with her family during the COVID lockdown, and it worked out so well that they've stayed on. Corie's close at hand when her dad, retired cop Dan Schottland, gets a call from his old precinct informing him that April Brown, a film professor at Rutgers, is looking for him.
As Dan explains, April was involved in "the coldest of his cold cases," referring to the difficulty of the failed investigation and the severity of the crime. April's parents — mob-connected accountant Seymour Brown and his wife, Kim — were literally incinerated when their home was burned to the ground by an arsonist who was never caught. So much accelerant was used in the fire that only a few bone fragments and a diamond remained, its gold band melted, making it even more appalling that April, then 5, was also sleeping in the house. She would have died had she not woken up and climbed out her bedroom window.
WHAT Susan Isaac is interviewed by Meg Wolitzer in a talk presented Long Island LitFest and Gold Coast Arts Center.
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. May 9, Manhasset Cinemas, 430 Plandome Rd.
INFO $45 (includes a copy of "Bad, Bad Seymour Brown"); longislandlitfest.com
April contacts Dan after an SUV tries to run her down. Fortunately, an evasion technique she remembered from an Alan Arkin movie saved her. Isaacs dedicates the book to her daughter, who has a masters in film studies, and the author has great fun with April's movie obsession, referencing classic films at every turn.
April gets more than she bargained for after contacting Dan. He and Corie set up shop as Schottland & Geller Investigations LLC. They apply for private investigator licenses, plump up their Zoom nook, and start tracking down persons of interest forthwith. It's crystal clear from the way the case unfolds that Corie is thrilled to be back on the job of fighting crime. The series is on.
"I was curious to find out why is everybody doing this," Isaacs, 79, explains. "What is the lure? Of course, the money — it pays to write series — but don't you get bored?"
She's made sure that's won't be the case. From the start, Isaacs created Corie with crack interrogation skills, a fighting instinct (and Krav Maga training), a commitment to justice, and a willingness to get on the road if need be. She's surrounded Corie with a vibrant family and supporting characters, including a still-smoldering ex-boyfriend, creating virtually unlimited potential for future plots.
Corie's kinship with her dad is based on Isaacs' own relationship with her much-missed father. "Though he was an engineer, not a cop, he explained the world to me," she wistfully recalls. Corie's mother — not based on Isaacs' mom — is hilarious, an actress who appears around the house in a long ruffled bathrobe, looking "ultra-charmant, like she was a theater major again at Brooklyn College playing the role of Lady Whoever in a drawing-room comedy." And anything could happen to Corie's 16-year-old stepdaughter, Eliza, with whom she's formed a strong bond.
"At 38, Corie could still have a child of her own," Isaacs points out, but at this point neither the character nor her creator knows if she wants one, if it would make sense given the demands of her ongoing career. It's also an open question whether Corie will let her design maven friend, influencer Wynne Fairclough, help her redo the house, a McMansion decorated by her husband's first wife "with more shell pink than anyone other than a 6-year-old girl should be able to stand."
This much is certain: the crimes will keep coming, and Corie will keep throwing herself into the fray. As she puts it, "I needed the search, I needed the chase, I needed to keep asking the right questions." So she will be as glad as we are to hear that Isaacs confirms a third installment is well underway.