There's an attractive female newspaper editor, a lumbering summer college intern, and a wild black bear loose on the streets of Newark setting the stage for Brad Parks' new novel "The Girl Next Door."
Parks, a past Maplewood resident and former Star-Ledger reporter, read an excerpt from his new novel Monday at Mix 27, a hip Newark eatery, at a book launch party hosted by Jaffe Communications, a Newark-based public relations, consulting and communications company.
"It's great to be back in Newark," said Parks, who began writing the "Carter Ross" mystery series after taking a buyout from The Star-Ledger and moving to Virginia with his family. This is the third in the crime novel series and focuses on solving the mystery of a girl killed in a hit-and-run accident. The book was released last month.
Parks said his experiences covering crime and news in Newark and its surrounding communities while at the newspaper gave him some of the ideas for his book series.
"It features a newspaper in trouble, some contentious union negotiations and there's also some fun," he said of his novel.
Parks, who traces his reporting career to Ridgefield High School, said he is still inspired by the "great characters" he met as a reporter in New Jersey. The novel has many familiar landmarks - the Garden State Parkway, South Orange Avenue and a fictional downtown newspaper.
Prior to becoming a novelist, Parks, a Dartmouth graduate, also worked at The Washington Post. His first novel, Faces of the Gone, won the Nero Award for Best American Mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First Mystery.
At Parks' Newark event, he got some good-natured ribbing from friends and former newspaper colleagues who complained he was often absent from the newsroom but always delivered his stories on time. Also on hand was Jen Weikert, the director of individual giving and strategic partnerships, for the Children's Literacy Initiative.
For each book Parks sold that night, $10 was donated to the literacy organization to pay for reading books for Newark school children and teacher training for Newark teachers to imrpove student literacy.
Weikert explained her organization is in 14 elementary schools in Newark, with help from a federal grant, and promotes student literacy and prevent future dropout rates.