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Police

Last Known Address, Theresa Schwegel, Minotaur Books, $24.99.

Last Known Address by Theresa Schwegel

Theresa Schwegel is that rare writer who embraces mystery as a genre—the police novel in particular—and also transcends it. The eye for human behavior she brings to her books is preternaturally precocious. Schwegel is a young woman, but all of human behavior seems like an open book to her. A simple description of a single girl dressing to go out: "I'm single. Leg is important" says a lot without saying more than it needs to. You get the picture.

Schwegel's new novel is the chilling story of a serial rapist, and she uses her trademark first person/present tense to tell the rape victim's stories from their point of view. It's a scary, effective, and ultimately moving technique. The cop in charge of the investigation, Sloan Pearson, is a youngish woman whose personal life is a mess, whose partner lets things slide, and who herself has the kind of relentless eye for detail all good cops seem to have. Unfortunately in this case her eye for detail gets her into trouble.

The subtext of the book—and it's not really too "sub"—is the treatment of women. While rape victims are an obvious illustration (and Schwegel takes you through a rape exam with an insensitive male doctor), less obvious and less straightforward are the ways Sloane herself makes her way through the world, and the way she's treated by all the men around her. She's even slotted herself—much in part to her childhood—as the caretaker to her father, her boyfriend, and even, to a degree, her partner.

Mixed into this is the atmosphere at work—the jokiness and the dismissal of women as an entirety—and the interactions she has with the men around her sometimes make her job seem almost unbearable. Here Schwegel is entering territory tread by other authors like Lillian O'Donnell, Barbara D'Amato and Leslie Glass, who all wrote about female cops in a male world. Schwegel seems to bring the extra subtlety of all human behavior into her observations, which seem less like observations and more like a documentary or primer on human behavior written by a master observer.

The plot is terrific too, as Schwegel folds a seemingly unrelated string of rapes into a high tension narrative that takes in, very Chicago like, the world of political corruption that surrounds her city and her job. There's also the business of Sloan's personal life, which is a mess, and which Schwegel explicates in a straightforward fashion, holding back details until the right moment. This is a gifted writer who combines narrative skill, character development and an ability to take in the entire surroundings of her character (also known as setting) with panache and seeming ease. Even better, the book leaves you thinking. This writer is fast becoming one of the crown jewels of mystery fiction.

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