Book Review

Random Victim
By Michael A. Black
ISBN: 978-0-8439-5986-4
Pub: Leisure Books, pb, 323 pages,
April, 2008

How did I miss this one when it first came out? I know the author, been following the man’s writing career. He gave me a copy of this book. Still, I only recently got around to reading it. And discovered to my chagrin what I’ve been missing. Delayed a really fine read. Here is Chicago, in all its grit and insouciance, its rhythm and its nasty side.

Chicago is part of Cook County, and they have a sheriff, a law enforcement presence, and all the problems an urban county can absorb. Comes now one Sergeant Francisco Leal, back after a drug bust gone bad, resulting in a grievous wound to his person. Leal, your basic resentful cynic, doesn’t enjoy busting bad guys to see them get off too lightly, and he isn’t always quiet about his feelings, even in front of the judge. Thus, “the Dark Gable Incident,” which gave Leal a certain cache, positive in some circles, but negative in many others.

We get a really good look at the simmering anger that lies under Leal’s professional demeanor and now he has a new assignment. Along with two young, inexperienced detectives and another sergeant, Leal is assigned to a politically sensitive case that is so cold, the detective’s fingers get numb just paging through the files.

Almost a year previously a major player, a judge Miriam Walker, went missing, was found dead some time later, and there were no arrests, no apparent motive, no leads.. A random victim, possibly of a carjacking? A very cold case. Now, elections are coming and the Sheriff is being beaten up over this still unsolved case. A team is assembled in an obvious political ploy, to re-examine the case and Leal is second in command, due primarily to his seniority. The team assembles with the initial understanding that there’s almost no upside to the situation.

The characters are precisely drawn, their actions methodical and deliberate and logical. The action and the tension are low-keyed for a long time, but the writing is so fine, I was drawn inexorably to page after page until the climax exploded off the page. This is one fine police procedural. Ultimately we learn that the assumption of randomness is not the truth.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyers, Bloody Halls, Devils Island

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