CANARYTOWN by M. Brooke  McCullough


City of Grief
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In this debut Chicago-set crime novel, police nickname a brutal serial killer Slugger because he beats his victims with a “bat-like weapon” and leaves a folded, collectible baseball card.

Slugger preys on hookers on the South Side of the city. Detective Kyle McNally and his longtime partner, Sam Weller, investigate the third murdered woman found in Canarytown, “the tavern district of south-central Chicago.” Looking for a lead, Kyle reaches out to informant Eddie Caffey, who “could smell a U.S. Grant from a block away.” But Eddie’s now skittish to talk because he says he saw another informant take a bullet to the head by a dirty cop whose identity isn’t clear. Splotchy-faced Cmdr. Alfred “Al” Rouse, with a broad nose featuring “a small vertical cleft that reminded Kyle of a miniature woman’s ass,” pressures the detective to solve the serial killer case. When another mangled corpse is found, Kyle visits the morgue to talk to the stone-faced but shapely legged county medical examiner, Dr. Mykel Hartley, about the time of death and the mutilation of the body. If it’s the same murderer, he broke from his modus operandi in several ways, including placing the victim in a cemetery far from Canarytown. Detective Liz Dumont—a petite, dedicated “dynamo” who’s “easy on the eyes, too”—mulls if there could be a copycat killer. McCullough and Boydston get a lot of credit for not portraying Kyle as the flawless hunk on the force. Although described as handsome, with a “body that looked well-tended,” he can be impatient and short-tempered. The divorced bourbon drinker doesn’t look for love, but it’s enjoyable—and not overdone—when he finds it. More sensitive readers may balk at the descriptions of mutilated bodies. But fans of gritty crime stories and methodical police work will find the book a page-turner, complete with notable characters, dialogue, and descriptions (“He guessed her at six foot two and skinny as a Ball Park frank”). Names and depictions of Chicago attractions and streets are accurate, with the exception that Canarytown is most likely a stand-in for Canaryville, a community on the city’s South Side that was originally a largely Irish neighborhood.

The authors hit this one out of the park; a highly recommended mystery.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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