A worn-out journalist, a paranoid hacker, and a compromised cop team up to unearth the mystery of a long-dead superhero.
It’s nearly impossible to review metafiction that relates to superheroes without directly calling out its influences, but debut novelist Martinson provides great storytelling without relying too heavily on his inspirations. The MacGuffin here is the titular Kingfisher, a costumed vigilante who protected Chicago in the mid-1980s before being murdered and mutilated beyond recognition. In the present day, a video from an unknown villain emerges, demanding that Police Chief Gregory Stetson release a medical report that proves the Kingfisher didn’t die and the police helped him fake his own death. The bad guy has hostages, too, and demonstrates that he’s willing to kill them in cold blood. The cops call in retired journalist Marcus Waters, who literally wrote the book on the Kingfisher, to investigate. The video is posed to look like the work of hacktivists called the Liber-teens, causing Wren, one of the group’s leading members, to freak out. We also meet Lucinda Tillman, a disgraced police officer with a chip on her shoulder. At its core, this is a straightforward police procedural, but it’s one in which the police might have something significant to hide. The main characters are designed to fulfill their roles, but Martinson is remarkably effective at depicting them and uniting their disparate worldviews—the jaded journalist who still believes in the truth; a young person with enough hope to believe the world can still change; and the cop who’s lost track of the lines we don’t cross. Anyone who’s read comics will recognize the analogy—the AWOL vigilante is a certain dark knight, and Stetson is the policeman who once sanctioned his violence. Regardless, Martinson has turned in a linguistically nimble and narratively taut fiction that skews closer to Jeffrey Deaver or Don Winslow than tales of costumed capers.
A solid crime novel about people just trying to do the right thing in a bad old world.