In this debut crime thriller, a disgraced former Chicago Gangs Unit cop seeks vindication and redemption while investigating a series of grisly murders.
One year after accidentally shooting and killing an 11-year-old boy in a Chicago housing project, Detective “Tow Truck” Miller is offered a transfer to Homicide. At the same time, a serial killer starts terrorizing the city, seemingly exacting revenge for the murders of two call girls. As Miller races against time to catch the killer, he also searches for a witness who might be able to clear him in the previous, tragic shooting. Gallagher efficiently juggles concurrent subplots that propel the novel forward as they introduce a disparate gallery of characters, including trader Richard Landon, whose run of bad luck includes a devastating financial loss at the hands of Rosco Mink, the serial killer’s latest victim; Landon’s sexually voracious, high-maintenance lover, Vicki; his former fiancée, Katie O’Connor, whose mother, Madeline, oversees the police board that will decide Miller’s fate; and 12-year-old Ben Foster and his new friend, Spider, whose impoverished families have been devastated by gang violence. This is an ambitious police procedural, murder mystery and social-issues novel in the vein of Richard Price, the author of Clockers (1992). Gallagher vividly renders Chicago’s tony Gold Coast, whose denizens have “real money…[a]nd power,” as well as gang-infested projects and insulated suburbs that hide their own secrets. However, he lacks Price’s mastery of plotting and his pitch-perfect ear for dialogue; Spider’s patois is particularly ham-handed (“Ain’t no polices comin’. Po-lices doan bother with no fire crackers”). More, too, could have been made of Miller’s reputation for strong-arm “Gang Crimes tactics,” with his new, more politically sensitive beat. Gallagher is better at conveying how the city works for rich, white people, and how it doesn’t work for struggling African-Americans. For example, during the media circus surrounding the serial murders, Ben notes how, when his father was shot, “there were no headlines for him.” The pieces of the puzzle ultimately fit together, albeit not all seamlessly, but the twist ending packs a lingering wallop.
To paraphrase one of Gallagher’s own character descriptions, this is a novel with high expectations for itself—a book with depth that, despite its shortcomings, is endlessly interesting.