Friday, December 18, 2009

Review of Calumet City by Charlie Newton (Bantam Books, 2008)

Ghetto cop Patti Black is as tough as they come; street smart with the courage to take on the Gangster Disciples that haunt Chicago’s meaner neighbourhoods. Her tactical unit are preparing to deliver a stolen-property warrant to a GD haunt when they receive news that somebody has tried to kill the mayor. An hour later they are in a major gunfight that drifts to another house; a house that was once owned by the mayor’s wife and whose basement is found to contain the remains of woman. A woman that Patti knows well – her foster parent whose husband, Roland Ganz, had systematically raped her over a four year period in a house in Calumet City ending in pregnancy at 15, flight, her son being adopted, and a few years drunk before she got her life back together sufficiently to start a new life. Then Assistant State Attorney, Richard Rhodes, is kidnapped. Richey from the home. Then Patti is contacted by a third victim, Danny Del Paso, now in a maximum security prison to warn her that a contract is out on her life. Gwen, the final child, also then contacts her to say that ‘he’ has her child and he's after Patti’s son. She might not have seen her son for over twenty years, but Patti will do anything to protect him from the monster she endured. Only the re-emergence of Roland has sent her into a flatspin, unable to make rational decisions, teetering on the edge of her sanity. To make matters worse, her mentor, Chief Jesse Smith, seems implicated in corruption with the mayor's office and both the FBI and Internal Affairs are also after her. Unsure who to trust, she stumbles from one high octane situation to the next, all the time knowing that her former tormentor is drawing closer.

Calumet City starts with a bang and the pace continues to build from there, the tension being steadily ratcheted up as Patti bounces from one crisis to the next whilst slowly disintegrating mentally as the pressure mounts. The writing is taut, and Newton quickly hooks the reader in and drags them along; compelled to find out what happens next. Whilst the story relies on too many coincidences and entanglements, at one level it doesn’t really matter - the entertainment and the realism of ghetto policing compensates for the lack of overall plot realism that blends gang violence, city politics, child sex abuse, torture, murder, religious fervour, and one woman’s attempts to maintain her sanity and protect her unknown son. For my money it’s more a thriller than a police procedural, but it certainly blends the two. Overall, a flawed but compelling edge-of-the-seat, rollercoaster of a story.

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