Tag Archives: fourth novel

Midnight Caller

The Dead Caller from Chicago: A Mystery by Jack Fredrickson (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 320 pages)

Dead Caller

“I’ve learned to hate Russians/All through my whole life.” Bob Dylan (“With God on Our Side”)

The Dead Caller from Chicago is the fourth in a series of Dek Elstrom novels by Jack Fredrickson. The first, A Safe Place for Dying, was a Shamus Award nominee (sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America) for Best First Novel. The second, Honestly Dearest, You’re Dead, was a Mystery Guild selection.

Frederickson’s bio admits only to a former career as a consultant, owner/manager of an interior design/commercial furnishings firm, and living with his wife somewhere west of Chicago.

Dead Caller starts with a phone call from Snark Evans who was reported dead decades ago. It takes place primarily in Chicago and the faux suburb Rivertown, though any reader who hopes to be drawn by a Chicago backdrop, imagery or traditions (other than corruption) will be disappointed, because there is little of that.

What the reader does get is a private investigator by the name of Elstrom, who becomes entangled in a “confluence” of circumstance that include the return of an ex-lover and news anchor, Jenny from San Francisco – who is equal parts hot for him and a story; an ex-wife who is kidnaped (and only seriously referenced 169 pages into the story); two murders; the disappearance of an old “friend”: an art heist; and, let’s not forget, Russian gangsters to boot.

Fredrickson is generally successful in balancing the construction of a plot, the need to move it along at a rapid pace, and the development of characters that have some pull for the reader. The second to last chapter explicitly ties all of the information together, which is probably good, because there are things that don’t hang together as well as intended.

The last couple of chapters more than hint at continued dalliances between Jenny and Dek, so expect that a fifth novel is in the works.

There is more promise than delivery in this book, but the novel is intriguing and has merit. The writing in engaging and solid, with the exception of too many “cutesy” lead-ins to the next scene or tie-ups of some type of situation or another. The repeated use of this device borders on annoying, yet can be overlooked on the whole as there are scenes that are very well done. There are several examples of the author capturing the reader’s attention, depicting an event or character well, or just plain advancing the plot effectively. But there are just a few too many times when this isn’t the case.

Examples from both ends of the spectrum include this resonant, succinct passage: “It had started to snow. I stepped out of the Newberry into great, sticky clumps of it, coming down as though some maniac upstairs were sitting in the dark, shedding wet, white felt. March was like that in Chicago.”

And these lesser attempts: “I bid a silent adios to the tattooed backsides at the bar and tumbled off to my room at the 8, sure to sleep well and safe.” “The Bohemian, that knower of all things, had done me well. Leo was in sharp, professional hands. Protected for now. Only for now.”

There are very few perfect novels. All nitpicking aside, this book mostly satisfies and will be enjoyed by fans of the crime novel genre.


Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.


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Puttin’ on the Ritz

Defensive Wounds: A Novel of Suspense by Lisa Black (William Morrow; $24.99; 352 pages)

“Trying to find a smear of the dark red on the burgundy-patterned carpet made needles and haystacks seem like a bar bet.”

In this fourth time around in Cleveland, Ohio, author Lisa Black presents a convoluted present day mystery that is solved with one part forensics and one part feelings.   Author Black does an excellent job of setting up the story line and expanding her cast of characters.   While forensic scientist Theresa Mac Clean and her cop cousin Frank are easily recognizable from the prior novel in this series, Trail of Blood, their emotions and personal opinions are considerably more pronounced.   Ms. Black uses a plotline that consists of a series of seemingly unconnected murders to thoroughly explore the meaning of family loyalty.   Throughout the tale, each of the main characters – Theresa, Frank, and Theresa’s daughter Rachel – must choose which side they are on.   For Rachel the choice revolves around her feelings for a young man with whom she works at Cleveland’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.   Theresa has to balance her relationship with Rachel and her daughter’s safety with the demands of her job in the medical examiner’s office.

Aggressive defense attorneys are not usually mourned at their passing by local law enforcement officers and forensics specialists.   These public servants often face seemingly excessive interrogation on the stand as expert witnesses during trial proceedings in criminal matters.   When glamorous defense attorney Marie Corrigan is found trussed up and dead in the Presidential Suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, not a single tear is shed or kind word uttered by the team summoned to the crime scene.   Ms. Corrigan’s reputation for winning acquittal verdicts for her questionable clients nearly matched her beauty and enviable figure.   “Ding dong the witch is dead,” was the vocal intoned by Leo DeCiccio in the trace evidence lab as the autopsy of Corrigan’s body began.

What better way to create a readily available pool of murder victims than to have them attend a seminar at said hotel that features the development of skills for achieving litigation success?   There is none better as far as this reviewer is concerned.   As each subsequent victim is discovered, the possibilities for a single murderer seem difficult to grasp, yet the methodology of killing is strikingly similar.   The past and present relationships of the murder victims and the investigators are not obvious.   Theresa and Frank must devote hours of sleuthing to fit the pieces together for the solution of the crimes.

Ms. Black’s wicked sense of humor provides several amusing sidebars for the reader.   Among the seminar lessons are the following:  “How to Make Not-Guilty Happen” and “Criminal Defense in a Down Economy.”   She gives her characters clever phrases and sets up the opportunities for them, such as,

“Two bodies piled up, and this woman knew both of them.   She may be able to connect the dots for us.   How much should we worry about people’s feelings?   Especially since they’re the same people who are going to say we didn’t solve these murders because we don’t like them?”

The take-away from this mystery novel is that we must all move on in life and it takes a bigger person to do so.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Defensive Wounds was released on September 27, 2010; it is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town

Iron House: A Novel by John Hart (Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 432 pages)

This mystery/thriller is the fourth book from author John Hart (Down River, The King of Lies, The Last Child).   His tale is dense, personal and darkly portrayed using excellent character development.   Michael, the main character, has led a mysterious life at the margins of society as a mob killer.   His childhood traumas and challenges form the background of the mystery.   There is a Dickensian quality to the somber undercurrent that stems from Michael’s childhood years spent in a horrific orphanage called Iron House.   He has recently felt a yearning for an ordinary life far from the world he knows.   Girlfriend Elena is at the center of these new feelings.

“Where are we going?”

“North Carolina.”


“To find my brother.”

She blinked, still stunned.   “You killed them.”

Michael opened the door, took her by the hand.   “I’m trying to quit.”

As is often the case, the plotline is just inside the bounds of believability.   Yes, we’re familiar with the notion of East Coast crime syndicates and the brutality of gangs in general.   Yes, a story that involves the worst of the bad is bound to contain its fair share of blood and guts.   But, no, the quantity of gore provided by author Hart was not anticipated.

The leisurely pace of the early chapters gives way to an all-out race against evil to save the damsel in distress.   This book is highly reminiscent of another recently published work that features an orphanage/reform school.   The Bone Yard by the writing duo known as Jefferson Bass relies on forensics and anthropology, while Iron House gets its structure from the aberrant quirks of some truly psychotic folks.   The two books are vastly different in that the bulk of the body count in The Bone Yard stems from decades old acts of cruelty, whereas Iron House has a pile of fresh corpses.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A rare accomplishment – a compelling, fast paced thriller written with a masterful, literary touch.”   Jeffrey Deaver

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