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City for Ransom Mass Market Paperback – December 27, 2005
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About the Author
Robert W. Walker, a graduate of Northwestern University, is the author of thirty-six novels, including the acclaimed PSI Blue featuring FBI Psychic Rae Hiyakawa, the Instinct Series with FBI Medical Examiner Dr. Jessica Coran, and the Edge Series featuring Texas Cherokee Detective Lucas Stonecoat and psychiatrist Meredyth Sanger. He has also recently published the serialized thriller set in India entitled Fleshwar on Amazon.com\shorts. Robert was born in Corinth, Mississippi; grew up in Chicago, Illinois; and currently resides in Chicago and Charleston, West Virginia. In between teaching, lecturing, and book touring, Rob is busy tackling his next two novels, City of the Absent and Deja Blue.
Top customer reviews
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Have begun reading the follow up to this book "Shadows in the White City".
I'll tell you what: Chicago of 1893 in Robert W. Walker's CITY FOR RANSOM, which takes you back in time as surely as any H.G. Wells time machine, back to a city that's the most important character in this superb, dark, skillful, hypnotic work. Calling it a mystery, or crime noir, or thriller, or work of suspense or horror would be short-changing this masterful creation. Yes, it's a gripping dark suspense filled story but always, always, it's Chicago that marches proudly through these pages, breathing life into them as only a master like Rob Walker can accomplish.
I won't review the story, the plot, or the marvellous characters. I'll leave that to other reviewers. I'm just glad that Rob Walker chose Chicago for this new series. If you know Chicago, read this. If you don't know Chicago, then you must read it to understand and share my passion.
The book is full of historical tidbits including 19th century forensic/criminal investigation techniques, Chicago geography, personalities and politics of the time, and goings on around the fair itself. (I'll leave it to others to point out specific errors but I noted a few.) The book has a cast of potentially interesting characters, (some fictional and some historical), including a police chief of questionable intelligence/morals, the junior cops working the case with our haunted protagonist, a police photographer with artistic aspirations, a medical doctor/coroner ahead of his time and a phrenologist called in to assist "scientifically" in the case. Unfortunately the connections that tie all these characters together defy belief.
On top of all this, the story line/plot lurches in fits and starts, jumping from the past and present (1893 present) with scene transitions reminiscent of old Batman episodes, "Meanwhile back at ...", clumsy dialog - characters finish each other's sentences, talk out loud to themselves and get up on soapboxes to rant on a variety of topics, (womens' rights, the justice system, the future of scientific endeavors and the cruelty of life in general), seemingly at the drop of a hat. Just to add to the confusion, 20th Century vernacular is sprinkled throughout, which is somewhat jarring.
This all adds up to a fairly disappointing read - at least to this reader - and I don't see myself actively seeking out other books by this author.
It is 1893 and the Great Exposition has opened in the Windy City, with its displays of new inventions and novelties--and particularly gruesome murders of garroted and burned victims. This first novel in the series introduces us to the continuing characters who grace its pages--Inspector Ransom, a lawman no worse than his peers but perhaps a little better; his friend hilo Keane, the photographer hired to capture evidence on film for the police; Police Chief Kohler, Ransom's old enemy; Dr. Christian Fenger, the city coroner, and Dr. James Phineas Tewes, who in reality is Jane Frances Ayers, a woman masquerading as a man in order to be allowed to practice medicine. In her role as Dr. Tewes, she and Ransom conflict whenever they meet, the inspector thinking the doctor a charleton because he studies phrenology and suggests trying to profile the killer, while Tewes considers Ransom a violent man who would be just as home on either side of a jail cell bars. In spite of this, their close association during the investigation of the slaying of several people in the vicinity of the fairgrounds sparks love in Jane and ambivalent feelings in Ransom who, once he learns that "the doctor' is really a woman, wonders how he could have been so blind. The background of the hatred between Kohler and Ransom is also explained, that the Police Chief ordered the explosions set during the Haymarket riots, killing six policemen and giving Ransom a permanent disability. Ransom is determined to prove it and Kohler is just as determined to get him off the force or worse. When the murders begin, the Chief thinks he's found his chance.
The historical background to the story is as much a character as the human ones. It's interesting to see mention of inventions and items we considered ordinary and everyday here described as new and innovative or just plain novelties, such as the flush toilet, and the telephone. Fingerprinting is considered mumbo-jumbo, though the Bertillon method of identification has been accepted as standard practice, and police call-boxes, where officers needing assistance may telephone for help have been installed throughout the city.
The search for the killer himself could almost be a Turn of the Century version of Criminal Minds or Law and Order. Ransom himself is targeted by the killer though he doesn't at first realize this, not knowing that he and the murderer are connected in an ironic way. When the killer switches from random victims to those associated with the inspector, killing them in gruesome and heart-searing ways, the search becomes a personal life-and-death duel between hunted and hunter, which will leave Ransom with guilt and considerable soul-searching. The identity of the killer is cleverly kept hidden until the denouement. One cleverly-placed sentence gives away his identity, but if the text isn't followed very closely, that sentence will be overlooked by the reader.
There are, of course, a few clichés--one of Ransom's friends is framed by Kohler and arrested for the crime, causing Ransom to speed up his search before the friend confesses under strong-arm interrogation tactics; Jane and her daughter are placed in jeopardy by the killer while Ransom's attention is diverted, but that doesn't make those moments any less tense or frightening.
All in all, this is a most enjoyable book, taut, fast-paced, full of action and historical tidbits and interesting trivia which shows that criminals and crime-fighters haven't changed so much except in the methods they use. Neither, it appears, is human nature so different then, from now. My only complaint is the cliff-hanger ending. I won't say more about that without giving a spoiler so I'll just suggest that if you want a good mystery read which will make you want to go on to the second story in the series, make City for Ransom your choice.
Most recent customer reviews
I was so distracted by the anachronistic dialog and ridiculous...Read more