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A Time Gone By: A Novel [Hardcover]

William Heffernan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 22 2003

Spanning the years from 1945 to 1975, A Time Gone By is rich in atmosphere and ripe with the kind of white-hot, hardboiled sexuality that distinguished the classic detective novels of authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and the noir films to which they gave rise.

Jake Downing is a rookie detective on the New York City Police force when he is called in to investigate the murder of one of the city's most prominent judges. A man who relished his position of power, and who also loved the excitement of the city's thriving post-World War II café society, Judge Wallace Reed was the top contender to become New York's next governor. All that and more is brought to an untimely end when the judge is found bludgeoned to death in his elegant Upper East Side town house.

The eventual outcome of the police investigation is the arrest and conviction -- and ultimate execution -- of a man who fit all the requirements of a killer. The murder case, and his involvement in its resolution, launches Jake Downing's career, a meteoric rise to the position of Chief of Detectives. But what Downing can't ever escape is his knowledge that the wrong person was sent to the electric chair -- it is something that has haunted him for years, ultimately destroying his personal life by driving away everyone he had ever loved. Now, facing retirement, Downing decides to reopen the investigation, to get both the record and his conscience straight -- no matter what it costs, no matter whom it hurts.

What really happened on that rainy night in 1945? Who wanted the judge killed?

Certainly Cynthia Reed, his sultry young widow, had questionable reasons for ever marrying him. But did she also want him dead?

When Jake Downing was given the task of protecting the widow, he knew it was a mistake -- she was beautiful and vulnerable, but she was also trouble. It was an assignment that would change forever the life of this idealistic young detective.

Now, two decades later, as he struggles to find the real murderer of Judge Reed, Jake Downing is opening a door he will never be able to close, as memories embrace him and shards of truth threaten to penetrate his soul.

But is it truth that Downing really wants, or is it revenge?


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

An aging police detective's regrets are examined in raw, moving detail in this superior crime drama revolving around an old murder case. Told from multiple viewpoints spanning a 30-year period from 1945 to 1975, the novel charts the troubled conscience of Jake Downing, who has risen to chief of detectives in New York City yet remains haunted by an investigation he oversaw as a young detective. Downing and his partner, Jimmy Finn, had the misfortune of being assigned the hot-potato homicide of Judge Wallace Reed, who was found bludgeoned to death in his apartment on a rainy morning at the end of WWII. For political reasons, the city's influential underworld bosses, as well as the police brass, frame a local thug for the killing, despite Downing's suspicions that Reed was slain as part of a shady real estate deal. Downing reluctantly goes along with the setup, a decision that leads to the execution of an innocent man. At the same time, the detective also falls under the influence of Reed's young wife, Cynthia, who seduces Downing into an affair that destroys his marriage. Now, 30 years later, Downing-seeking personal redemption under the guise of a quest for justice-reopens the case, finding himself fighting the same political and personal forces as in his younger days. Edgar-winning Heffernan (The Dinosaur Club; Beulah Hill) once again shows himself a craftsman of the hardboiled style, as well as a seamless handler of shifting viewpoints and emotions. Though predictable in its conclusion, this small, quiet story of one man's quest to free himself from his demons and guilt is a modest gem.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Veteran crime writer Heffernan offers an atmospheric homage to the noir-tinged melodrama of the 1940s. Standing for Dana Andrews in the film Laura is NYPD detective Jake Downing, who falls under the spell of Cynthia Reed, hatcheck-girl-turned- wife of a crooked judge, whose head has been bashed in with a gavel. When the big boys downtown deliver a gift-wrapped suspect, Jake and hard-nosed partner Jimmy Finn know the fix is in, but their hands are tied---not that Jake cares much, since he's fallen into the widow Reed's bed while his own wife prepares to give birth back in Brooklyn. Flash-forward 30 years, and Jake, now a widower himself, vows to reopen the case. Heffernan juggles the time frames effectively, gradually revealing what happened and how it affected the principals' later lives. The crime story plays itself out agreeably if a tad predictably, but the real draw here is the cafe-society ambience--dinner at the Stork Club, drinks at 21, etc. A pleasant evening's read, best served with martinis. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Debra Purdy Kong TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
One look at the dingy, barely lit street corner on the cover of William Heffernan's novel, A Time Gone By, and you'll know this isn't a book about cuddly cats and amateur sleuths. The bleak ambience continues on the novel's first page with a gloomy rainy night and a dead body. But here's the thing: Heffernan's writing is so elegant that I want to call the novel beautiful. From page one, I was drawn into the story by the style and protagonist's voice as much as the plot and 1945 time period. And then there's the intriguing twist in chapter two. The story leaps forward thirty years, when Chief of Detectives, Jake Downing, is still haunted by events of that night. In 1945, he was a twenty-five-year-old rookie detective, and about to make the biggest mistake of his life.

At first, the plot seems straight forward. Jake and his more experienced partner, Jimmy Finn, are assigned to find out who murdered a prominent judge. But they soon realize that powerful higher-ups have already decided how this case will turn out. Things become complicated both professionally and personally for Jake as he begins to fall for the judge's gorgeous young widow, while Jake's pregnant wife waits for him at home.

Heffernan does an excellent job of switching back and forth in time while moving the story forward at a carefully measured pace. Like most noir novels, this book depicts people trapped in tough-to-hopeless situations. People motivated by hidden agendas, betrayal, revenge, lust, love, and pure survival. But what really captured me was the emotion driving this novel. Not just violent rage, but guilt, regret, sadness, resignation, and varying degrees of love. Perhaps the best noir crime novels are all about strong emotions and what happens when those emotions override common sense. A Time Gone By demonstrates this in a terrific story with captivating prose.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written Aug. 5 2003
Format:Hardcover
In 1945 Manhattan, homicide detectives Jimmy Finn and Jake Downing investigate the death of Judge Wallace Reed. The most likely murder weapon, a heavy gavel with blood on it, was found near the corpse. Meanwhile City Democratic boss Manny Troy orders Downing to guard the victim's wife Cynthia, who the cop badly desires.
In 1975, Downing watches his wife Mary interred in a Brooklyn cemetery. He guiltily thinks back thirty years to the affair with Cynthia while Mary gave birth alone to their daughter. Knowing he cannot make up for what he did to Mary, Downing feels he can somewhat rectify his other blunder of helping the state execute an innocent man for murder of the judge. He persuades Finn to join him in reinvestigating the case since improved technology will help, but the brass tells them as they were warned three decades ago to leave it alone or else.
This is a pure police procedural as William Heffernan provides two investigations into the same murder separated by only time. The story line with its two interrelated subplots is cleverly designed so that the audience sees the changes in people and even more the differences in how investigations are conducted. The depressing key cast members all emit negative vibes so that the audience never roots for anyone. Sub-genre fans will appreciate A TIME GONE BY as a powerful comparative duality that entertains the reader.
Harriet Klausner
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant Writing and Strong Emotion Make a Great Read July 11 2008
By Debra Purdy Kong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
One look at the dingy, barely lit street corner on the cover of William Hefferman's novel, A Time Gone By, and you'll know this isn't a book about cuddly cats and amateur sleuths. The bleak ambience continues on the novel's first page with a gloomy rainy night and a dead body. But here's the thing: Hefferman's writing is so elegant that I want to call the novel beautiful. From page one, I was drawn into the story by the style and protagonist's voice as much as the plot and 1945 time period. And then there's the intriguing twist in chapter two. The story leaps forward thirty years, when Chief of Detectives, Jake Downing, is still haunted by events of that night. In 1945, he was a twenty-five-year-old rookie detective, and about to make the biggest mistake of his life.

At first, the plot seems straight forward. Jake and his more experienced partner, Jimmy Finn, are assigned to find out who murdered a prominent judge. But they soon realize that powerful higher-ups have already decided how this case will turn out. Things become complicated both professionally and personally for Jake as he begins to fall for the judge's gorgeous young widow, while Jake's pregnant wife waits for him at home.

Hefferman does an excellent job of switching back and forth in time while moving the story forward at a carefully measured pace. Like most noir novels, this book depicts people trapped in tough-to-hopeless situations. People motivated by hidden agendas, betrayal, revenge, lust, love, and pure survival. But what really captured me was the emotion driving this novel. Not just violent rage, but guilt, regret, sadness, resignation, and varying degrees of love. Perhaps the best noir crime novels are all about strong emotions and what happens when those emotions override common sense. A Time Gone By demonstrates this in a terrific story with captivating prose.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written Aug. 5 2003
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1945 Manhattan, homicide detectives Jimmy Finn and Jake Downing investigate the death of Judge Wallace Reed. The most likely murder weapon, a heavy gavel with blood on it, was found near the corpse. Meanwhile City Democratic boss Manny Troy orders Downing to guard the victim's wife Cynthia, who the cop badly desires.
In 1975, Downing watches his wife Mary interred in a Brooklyn cemetery. He guiltily thinks back thirty years to the affair with Cynthia while Mary gave birth alone to their daughter. Knowing he cannot make up for what he did to Mary, Downing feels he can somewhat rectify his other blunder of helping the state execute an innocent man for murder of the judge. He persuades Finn to join him in reinvestigating the case since improved technology will help, but the brass tells them as they were warned three decades ago to leave it alone or else.
This is a pure police procedural as William Heffernan provides two investigations into the same murder separated by only time. The story line with its two interrelated subplots is cleverly designed so that the audience sees the changes in people and even more the differences in how investigations are conducted. The depressing key cast members all emit negative vibes so that the audience never roots for anyone. Sub-genre fans will appreciate A TIME GONE BY as a powerful comparative duality that entertains the reader.
Harriet Klausner
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A competent but familiar mystery Jan. 25 2011
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
New York City, 1945. A prominent judge is murdered in his home. Jake Downing and Jimmy Finn are the detectives assigned to the case. By the time they arrive at the murder scene, the police commissioner and Manny Troy are already there. Troy is "the boss of the city's Democrats." He makes sure that Downing and Finn provide around-the-clock protection for Cynthia, the judge's young widow, in addition to investigating the murder. Although Downing is married and about to have a baby, he becomes intimately involved with the woman he's supposed to be protecting.

New York City, 30 years later. Finn is retired and Downing, now chief of detectives, having laid his wife to rest, reopens the investigation of the judge's death. Downing has never wavered in his belief that an innocent man was executed for the crime.

The novel shifts between those two time frames, telling the story of the 1945 murder investigation and the story of its impact on Downing's life after three decades have passed. The story is also told from shifting points of view: sometimes as a third person narrative, sometimes in the first person from Downing's perspective. A couple of times the story is told in first person from Finn's perspective -- an odd choice that seems out of place, given that this is Downing's story, not Finn's.

A Time Gone By is a competent mystery that, unfortunately, seems too familiar. The scenes from 1945 attempt to develop a sense of noir that is overly reminiscent of a Bogart movie. The supporting characters are stereotypes: the Irish cop who speaks in a brogue; the beautiful young woman who is a hat check girl before she marries an older, powerful, abusive man; the corrupt politicians and nasty thugs. Only Downing is given a unique personality, and it isn't much of a personality. The investigation unfolds as the reader might expect, with few surprises at the end. The one twist that Heffernan provides in the last pages seems forced.

One last gripe: Downing tells the reader early on that the man who was executed for the judge's death didn't commit the crime but Heffernan beats the reader over the head with the claim that the guy deserved to die anyway ... for other unspecified crimes. That information is apparently intended to allow the reader to maintain sympathy for Downing, who is complicit in the wrongful execution, but it seemed to me to be an all-too-obvious device. If Downing let an innocent man die, after all, we shouldn't feel good about him; manipulating the reader's emotions by making us think the guy deserved his death just masks the impact of Downing's reprehensible actions. Heffernan engages in similar manipulation of the reader's feelings about Cynthia toward the novel's end. It was all just a little too contrived for me.

Having said all that, there are things I liked about A Time Gone By. Heffernan's prose is fluid. The story unfolds at a nice pace. The sense of place and of the post-war era is realistic. This isn't a bad novel at all, but it didn't grab me. I would give A Time Gone By 3 1/2 stars if Amazon offered that option.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Political Judge Murdered: Wrong Man Goes To Electric Chair Dec 26 2006
By Michael L. Slavin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Judge Wallace Reed was found murdered in his East 54th Street townhouse. The judge was being primed to run for governor of New York state against Tom Dewey. Two detectives, Jimmy Finn and 25 year old rookie Jake Downing are assigned to the case. Their investigation is interfered with by Democratic City boss Manny Troy who has his own agenda. The time frame of the case was from 1945 to 1975, when after 30 years Downing, now Chief of Detectives, suffers from a guilty conscience about his role in allowing the guilty murderer to escape while sending the hoodlum set up by Manny Troy to the electric chair. Along the way the reader is privy to the atmosphere at The Stork Club, a torrid affair between Downing and the beautiful 23 year old wife of the deceased at the same time his wife was about to give birth, as well as the mega real estate deal for the future site of The United Nations. The book moved along at a fairly good clip with flashbacks alternated with present. The final part of the investigation was quite exciting and somewhat unexpected.
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