Journalist Heller (The Someday File, 2014) returns to Chicago for another gritty and complicated Deuce Mora mystery.
Deuce, a star columnist for the Chicago Journal newspaper, is taking a relaxing walk through a local park with her boyfriend, Mark Hearst, when Mark’s dog finds a human femur that turns out to be a child’s remains. An investigation by the police and the Department of Children and Family Services uncovers more and more bodies of children, but city officials and feds try to keep the story quiet. The local police, for example, won’t say anything about the situation officially, but Deuce gets some off-the-record help from Sgt. Pete Rizzo, a Chicago Police spokesman; Dr. Tony Donato, a medical examiner; and some old friends in high places. The information eventually points her to a child trafficking ring. The National Security Agency and the FBI try to block her investigation, and Deuce eventually finds out that the murders are tangled up in city politics and international intrigue. She keeps pushing, even after her life is threatened multiple times and one of her sources is murdered. Along the way, she meets a kid named Charles; he and his brother are in separate foster homes, and his situation breaks her heart. Heller sets a lot of plates spinning in the first half of this book, and it can sometimes seem overly convenient when Deuce correctly guesses what’s going on. Things tighten up in the second half, which is expertly paced and leads to a thrilling conclusion. After the action is over, though, Heller gives readers a history lesson in Middle East politics—a forced attempt to add more relevance to the story that falls flat. Heller also peppers her prose with some clunky phrases that ape the language of hard-boiled detective novels; at one point, for example, Pete Rizzo describes another character as being “tough as the Bears’ search for a decent quarterback,” and Deuce communicates her sadness at a betrayal by saying, “To paraphrase the words of Marlon Brando to Rod Steiger in the 1954 film, On the Waterfront, he cudda been a contenda, he cudda been somebody.”
A sometimes-effective mystery that suffers from some distracting affectations.