Big City, Bad Blood, Sean Chercover, William Morrow, $23.95.
Sean Chercover's Ray Dudgeon is a private eye not because he's dying to be one, but because it makes sense to him. More sense to him than being a reporter, which broke his heart, something he thinks being a private eye won't do. Well, what kind of book would this be if his heart didn't get broken a bit? A boring one, probably, and it's not this one. Ray has done a little high tech security work for the local mob boss - only it's Chicago, so call them "the Outfit" - and when he's asked to take on a case protecting a movie location scout who saw something he shouldn't, he goes straight to said mob boss first, to see if there's a hit on his possible client. This seems eminently sensible, and Ray is nothing if not sensible. The mob boss assures him that nothing should stop him from taking the job - if someone's out to kill his client, that someone is working on his own. Ray takes the job, and of course, that's where the trouble begins.
His client, Bob Loniski, a slightly nerdy, unprepossessing man who had rented his location office unwittingly from a mobster who was working on his own, isn't taking the threat to his life too seriously, and his boss, the producer of the movie, only sees it as a good publicity angle. This puts a real hobble on Ray's effectiveness. Ray gets extra jumpy when he realizes that a few other witnesses have died recently under - ahem - mysterious circumstances. Chercover works most of the tried and true bits of P.I. writing into this book - the road trip, the red head with a cigarette, the girlfriend who objects to danger, the unlikely caper and hideout, and, a la James Bond, a less expected and somewhat gruesome torture scene. All of this helps not only to establish Ray's bona fides to himself, but also to the reader, as this somewhat laissez faire detective slowly finds himself more and more invested in what he's doing, and even fond of his foolish client. It's this slow evolution that makes Ray an interesting character, and the city of Chicago is almost one too. It's not the ultra moneyed and powerful world Sara Parestky often portrays in her novels, not the suburbs Libby Hellman writes about, and not the varied professional worlds Barbara D'Amato writes about - it's a kind of regular, middle class Chicago as it is now, and that makes it stand out a bit. His fellow freshman class member, Marcus Sakey, writes about a slightly more gritty reality. Ray's Chicago just seems like plain old reality, and it's very accessible to the reader. You feel you might likely live next door to someone like Ray, and if you did, you'd be upset if he started bleeding all over the street.
Despite Ray's sensible intentions, things of course go wrong, his client only reluctantly follows his advice, and Ray comes in almost too late to save the day, but he's able to tie up the threads in a way any Shamus worth his salt would. I enjoyed getting to know him, and by the end of the book he seemed so real to me I was worrying about his love life and whether someone might slash the tires of his nice new car. He's just the kind of character you want to know more about, and that means after reading this book, you'll probably look forward to another Ray Dudgeon adventure.
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