...[an] exceptional novel ... Even after the trial ends, brutal surprises keep emerging. Throughout, Peter Blauner’s characters are complex and his prose is as impressive as his plot. His gritty portrayal of urban crime recalls the work of Richard Price and Dennis Lehane ... [Blauner's] return to crime fiction novels after a 10-year hiatus is most welcome.
Proving Ground is a compelling read from start to finish, a masterful novel that speeds along telling its tale of crime, urban life, family, and war. Every major character in it has wounds and deals with a degree of corruption in their soul, but how each person responds to these stresses is what differentiates them ... Page by page, scene by scene, Proving Ground’s plot builds. Blauner develops his threads and twists with precision. The narrative’s forward momentum never flags. Yet, at the same time, Blauner shows how the past often intrudes on people—especially people like Natty—suffering from the effects of war ... Proving Ground melds plot, character, and action into a seamless whole, all while giving us a clear look, a bracing look, at the New York City of right now.
[Blauner's] garrulousness salvages a story that’s only intermittently engaging ... They converge from different angles on the same possible perp, who is, alas, catastrophically easy to spot. Luckily the people who fall for Proving Ground will care far more about its voice, filled with moments of surprising New York stoop-sitting joy. Blauner is a bad-ball hitter — he’ll miss on an easy description, overwriting Dresden’s widow for instance, but then capture with beautiful easy precision, for instance, a flash of dialogue between cops, who talk skells and Rockefeller time, 'flip tin,' banter at each other to signal that they care ... Blauner’s fable seems truer to its emotional beats, Natty and Lourdes powerfully real in their lucid, disillusioned idealism.