City of the Absent
Robert W. Walker
Harper, Dec 2007, $7.99
The night brings an end to the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and with its closing two murders occurs separated by miles and class. Mayor Carter Harrison who thought he was invincible and had an open door policy even at his home was killed there. Across town Vanderfn and Philander Rolsky are seeking a nonentity that no one will miss. They set their sights on a grandmotherly looking prostitute to harvest her organs for use at a medical college.
However, this time the brothers picked the wrong person because the victim was a Pinkerton Agent Nell Harrington in disguise and on the trail of a doctor who buys corpses and organs. Police Inspector Alastair Ransom was Nell’s friend and he obsesses with finding her killer, but he also has enemies in high places like Police Chief Kohler. The Chief collaborates with a senator who hired Pinkerton to find evidence to lock Alastair up as a felon. Alastair knows the police chief and the senator are murderers, but lacks evidence to convict them. He does not make life easier for himself when he goes to castrate a priest defiling children, but was too late as someone took care of the ungodly father. Alistair’s boss plans to nail him for the crime.
Robert W. Walker is a master at evoking atmosphere; in this case the gaslight era that enables fiends and lunatics to hide in its shadows. Alastair uses the services of a homeless child as a snitch just like Holmes used the Baker Street Irregulars. In fact the protagonist reminds readers of Holmes as he laconically refuses to give up on a case in which the political and police brass of Chicago are corrupt and willing to hang this dedicated cop instead of seeing justice served.