Written by Sam Reaves — We get dozens of review requests each week from authors and publishers. The books range from mainstream work by best-selling writers to self-published debut novels. We do our best to cover the full scope crime fiction out there and just occasionally we come across a hidden gem. Recently, the Illinois writer Sam Reaves sent me a copy of Homicide 69, a book first published in 2007.
It’s summer, and as you might have guessed, it’s 1969. But there’s no scorching guitar intro, no teenagers holding hands on a porch, and no six-string bought from a Five and Dime. For this is over 2000 miles from Vancouver. It’s Chicago. Man is about to set foot on the moon, Ted Kennedy is about to embark on one midnight drive too many. The Chicago Cubs head the National League for most of the season before blowing it in the final games, and the riots of the previous year have left the city’s West Side looking more like Beirut than a city-scape in the world’s wealthiest nation. Against this backdrop, 46-year-old homicide detective Mike Dooley works the late shift and tries to remember that the other folks living in his house are actually his family. Dooley is a veteran of the War in the Pacific, and his eldest son is with the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam.
Two boys out collecting bottles find the corpse of young woman in the reeds at a river’s edge. She has been mutilated and beaten beyond recognition. By dogged police work and with the help of a couple of lucky breaks, Dooley and his partner Olson discover that she is Sally Kotowski, a former Playboy Bunny. When a couple of mob footsoldiers are implicated in the killing, the homicide bosses are perfectly happy to chalk it up as another solved case. Dooley thinks this is all too convenient, and helped by Laura Lindbloom, an enigmatic and beautiful former friend of the dead woman, he picks away at the threads of the blanket that his superiors have thrown over the case.
The period background is beautifully done, and Reaves skilfully avoids anachronisms.The scene where Dooley attends the funeral service of a dead marine, and is thrown completely off-course by the fact that the boy was black, but still a buddy of his son, is revelatory, and shows that Reaves has a deep understanding of the transitional nature of the late 1960s. The shifting of time honoured moral and politically certainties in America and further afield is described in a poetic, but deceptively simple way. Dooley is a perceptive and canny detective and the punctuation of the main narrative with the more day-to-day homicides is well-judged, and provides a high contrast background for his obsessive search for the killers of Sally Kotowski.
The amazing world events of 1969 are a fascinating back projection in front of which Dooley slogs remorselessly through a mire of corruption. He plays a classic lone hand against the Chicago mob, corrupt police and the cynical pragmatism of the FBI. Dooley is a simple man, but Reaves makes him stand out proudly in a busy and sprawling canvas. There is a poignant double love story. There is heartbreak. There is justice. And, the best 20 twenty pages of a book that I can recall in a long while.
Though you can only get it via re-sellers on both Amazon UK and Amazon in the US, Reaves hopes to release a Smashwords version soon. I do hope so, because this is a big book, in all kinds of ways, and one which I will re-read for the sheer quality of the writing, even though I know the outcome.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars