Saturday, April 12, 2008
Coming to Blows in the Windy City
There's a new no-nonsense female private detective in Chicago: Georgia Davis, a former cop who is tough and smart enough to give even the legendary V.I. Warshawski a run for her money. And Warshawski creator Sara Paretsky provides Libby Fischer Hellmann, her colleague from the blog The Outfit, with a gracious nod in the jacket copy for Hellmann's new book, Easy Innocence.
Hellmann, who put together Chicago Blues, a wonderfully evocative anthology of mystery stories, also writes a series about video producer and single mother Ellie Foreman (who we learn was involved in the case that led to Davis' suspension). Davis is something else again: deeply moral in the best way, grittier, more noir, a throwback to the best of Dashiell Hammett.
Hellmann knows how to distill the essence of a character in a few unadorned but dead-right sentences. "If anything was wrong with him, his wife Joyce, a strong plain-speaking woman with so much energy she could power the lights at Wrigley Field by herself, would be all over him with a list of remedies she'd discovered on the Internet," she says of a former police mentor who gets Davis her first decent private case.
A beautiful, smart junior at Newfield School in Winnetka ("considered one of the most prestigious public schools in the country, but it was a place that mirrored both the best and the worst of teenage life") is murdered in a park. She is involved in a nasty hazing incident by a group of senior girls who cover her head with a bucket filled with fish guts and leave her. A mentally troubled man sees the incident and hears her cries for help, but before he can get to her someone else beats her to death with a baseball bat. The police find the man, a registered sex offender, nearby with the bat in his hand and the girl's blood on his shirt.
But some people - the man's caregiver sister, Davis' police friend and soon Davis herself, hired by the sister - doubt his guilt. Nagging questions arise: Why did police not mention the hazing incident until they were forced to acknowledge it? What pressure was brought from above to steamroll the case to trial? Could it have something to do with the fact that one of the girls involved is the daughter of the ambitious new state's attorney?
In the end, after more blood has been spilled and a chain of lies has been broken, a friend of Davis' asks:
" 'This life of yours. How can you do it day after day? Doesn't it get to you? Don't you ever want to be—normal?' "
" 'Who says I'm not "normal," whatever that is?' "
All our detectives should be so normal. And all of them should have Hellmann on hand to get the message out.