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City of the Absent    by Robert W. Walker order for
City of the Absent
by Robert W. Walker
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

City of the Absent is set in late 19th century Chicago at the close of the Great Chicago World's Fair. The mayor is assassinated by a disgruntled employee in front of his home and Pinkerton Detective Nell Hartigan is brutally murdered.

Inspector Alastair Ransom vows to find Nell's killer as well as the person behind the slaying. Chicago is rife with good-ole-boy syndrome. Politicians, as well as well-heeled businessmen, are lining their pockets at the citizens' expense people are even being killed so that their bodies can be used in medical schools.

Ransom is a loose canon and does his police work according to his own ethics. He is not averse to roughing up a prisoner to get honest answers. This causes him no end of trouble with his boss and the Pinkertons, who are afraid he is getting too close to uncovering their crimes.

It's bad enough to fight the crooks at City Hall by day. The streets are not safe at night. Prostitutes ply their trade. Pickpockets are rife. Thieves would leave you naked. Night is a character - that seems all too real and frightening - in this chiller. How anyone lived to leave heirs is a mystery.

Add to this a woman doctor who is masquerading as a man and is Ransom's love interest and you've got the makings of a thrilling story, full of rip-snorting intrigue and action. The last scene when Ransom is arrested for murder (he's accused of castrating a priest who is molesting small boys) is nail-bitingly tense. The book ends on this cliffhanger.

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