Clues hidden in memory
Though more than six decades have passed since Elaine Greenstein’s twin sister, Barbara, disappeared without a trace, the octogenarian heroine of author Janice Steinberg’s new novel, The Tin Horse, is still reeling from the heartbreak endured by her fractured family circa 1939. Steinberg, the author of five mysteries, has transcended genre to weave a rich story that will appeal to readers who appreciate multigenerational immigrant family sagas as well as those who simply enjoy psychological suspense.
Set in the historically Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, the chronology of the story begins in the present day, as Elaine is packing up a lifetime of long-forgotten family memorabilia in preparation for her move to a retirement community. When she inadvertently stumbles across a clue to her missing sister’s whereabouts, Elaine—a retired civil rights attorney—joins forces with a young Ph.D. student, Josh, whose dissertation research dovetails serendipitously with the elderly woman’s determination to unravel the mystery of her twin’s disappearance.
While the belated search for Elaine’s missing sister drives the plot of The Tin Horse, the grace and rhythm of the novel are provided by its poignant portrayal of the messiness of sibling rivalry, young love and economic hardship, something that wreaks havoc within even loving families. Indeed, perhaps the most deftly written and mesmerizing chapters of the novel are those that are told in flashback, from Elaine’s dignified grandfather Zayde’s double life as the neighborhood bookmaker, to her mother’s harrowing childhood exodus from Romania. Each Greenstein has a dramatically disparate personal narrative of their family’s shared history, reminding readers that in the end, all we have are our memories.