It's been years since anybody's seen Samuel Burwell around Chicago's scruffy West Side; but some anonymous client of well- tailored black lawyer David Hill thinks the old street vendor is back on his old turf again, and Hill hires PI Paul Whelan (The Body in Belmont Harbor, 1993, etc.) to find him. Whelan shows a 20-year- old photo around Maxwell Street and asks the same questions dozens of times, but he can't find Burwell, because Burwell's dead, shot and shoved under one of the West Side's legendary elevated sidewalks. And when Whelan, who can't take a case the police are actively investigating, agrees to dig up some information about Burwell's life for his old partner, O.C. Brown—``Lemme see if I got it right,'' his cop buddy Albert Bauman jeers: ``You're not investigating this guy's murder; you're investigating his life''- -other people he's been talking to about Burwell's 30-year-old secrets start dying too. Under Raleigh's searching lens, the ``back-alley Brigadoon'' of Maxwell Street teems with unwholesome life—each sandwich has its own distinctive smell—but this time the atmosphere swallows up the characters, who have about as much individuality as bacteria, and the plot as well. When you stand back from the story, all you see is a decent man banging his head repeatedly against a stone wall until it finally cracks.
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