Saturday, September 23, 2006

City for Ransom by Robert Walker

Robert Walker has written over 40 novels now, and he says this is the novel that all those others were leading him up to. I believe it.

City for Ransom is set in 1893 Chicago in the midst of the World's Fair. Our hero, Alastair Ransom, Chicago Police Detective, is a man caught between the old and the new. The big man, who Walker actually referred to as the "Chicago Bear" (I loved that), has quite a history with what we'd call police brutality today, but in 1893 was quite the norm. Ransom struggles with this throughout the book, at the same time embracing the new technologies, like phones and forensics. It's a great peak into a time when law enforcement was going through growing pains between brute force and science.
Ransom is a character you either love or hate, which makes him all that much more enjoyable to read. You realize, as you journey through Chicago's cobblestone streets, that he hasn't yet decided whether he loves or hates himself. To my shock and horror, Walker provides Ransom with a love interest in the story. That is a subplot that is almost as interesting as the main plot. I won't say anymore less I ruin it for you.

The plot is that of a serial killer stalking the immediate vicinity of the fair, which, not surprisingly, increases public interest in the fair. The killer's method is brutal and dramatic, but Walker keeps the gore to a minimum. I especially liked the tie in to another imfamous event in Chicago's history--the Haymarket Riot.

I love history, and it's always fun to read a fictional novel set in a period and place I'm unfamiliar with. Chicago makes a great setting because so much has changed yet so much was the same. Even in 1893, it was a city famed for corruption and political scandal (You all know the joke amongst Chicagoans, right? Vote early and vote often). This was the city that would eventually give birth to men like Al Capone.

I read the reviews on Amazon before writing this. It's always dangerous to write historicals because this nation is awash with armchair historians who live for two things: reading about history and pointing out the mistakes fiction writers make when writing about history. I couldn't care less if a .44 Sharps was a rifle and not a handgun (I haven't checked on that). Mystery fans love a great plot and enticing characters, and that's what Walker delivers.

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