City of Windows

Written by Robert Pobi — In a CFL interview with Robert Pobi about his 2012 debut novel Bloodman, he said he wanted to write an old-fashioned character-driven story. He’s done it again with his new police procedural, City of Windows.

Ten years before the start of this book, astrophysicist Dr Lucas Page left his FBI career on uneasy terms after an accident with explosives nearly killed him. He now has a prosthetic arm, a prosthetic leg, and one ceramic eye that doesn’t quite track with the other. Page’s challenges in dealing with these bionic man aspects of his life add to the depth of his character and are quite interesting.

Now Page is writing best-selling books and teaching at Columbia University in Manhattan. He thinks his students are generally lacklustre, but takes into account his jaded view of most things. Except his family. His wife Erin is a pediatrician. They have a ragtag collection of five children who were let down by their real parents and by the system, plus a dog. The family interactions provide a nice balance in the story.

As the university’s semester closes out for the Christmas holiday, a huge blizzard is under way. Many blocks south in midtown Manhattan, a bizarre shooting has occurred and, in the news reports, Page recognises the FBI agents working the case. The fact that the victim was in a moving vehicle, shot from a high angle from a considerable distance in the middle of a snowstorm means that identifying the sniper’s nest will be difficult. But Page has an uncanny ability to plot bullet trajectories and lines of sight.

So, that evening’s visit from his former FBI supervisor, though unwelcome, is not unexpected. The Bureau is involved because the dead man is one of their own. Still, Page isn’t interested in helping until he learns the victim is his former partner, Doug Hartke.

Though the shot was essentially impossible, Page is able to turn visual relationships into mathematical data. It isn’t the result of conscious thought, it is automatic, instinctive, and unexplainable. He points out a building 772 yards from the point of impact – almost eight football fields away.

Old jealousies arise, family needs pull at him, his former supervisor is as opaque as ever, there’s political pressure to pin the shooting on a Muslim extremist and Page is not on a track that will make him friends. But, when a second law enforcement officer is assassinated a mere 13 hours later, any hope that Hartke’s death was a fluke simply evaporates. And, in his heart of hearts, Page loves this work.

The second victim is another career law enforcement officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). She was shot on the semi-crowded tram that operates between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan, moving at almost 18 miles an hour through a heavy snowstorm from a distance of almost half a mile. Another impossible shot. Again, Page pinpoints the source.

The shooter is using unusual ammunition. Its metal core makes it armor-piercing, and the core itself is not of this earth. It’s from a meteorite… opening up another line of investigation.

Manhattan is practically another character in the story as the authorities investigate the crime scenes and Page follows leads into various neighborhoods. It makes lamentably perfect urban sense that a skilled assassin roaming the holiday streets puts people on edge, with some tragic miscalculations the result.

Then a third law enforcement officer is killed, another former ATF agent, now working with one of the prisons on infamous Riker’s Island. It’s clear the shooter is after specific individuals, but how are the victims related? Answering this key question calls on Page’s insightful investigatory skills, and three of those maligned college students help out.

Time speeds along, the bodies pile up, and it seems Page and his family are the assassin’s ultimate targets. This is the book’s weakest point, as it seems manufactured so the plot can culminate in a showdown between Page and the killer. While the rationale for the earlier murders follows a kind of twisted logic, the targeting of Page and his family does not, though it is justified in a sentence or two. For me, that didn’t work, especially as I had a good idea who the killer would turn out to be. That problem aside, there are plenty of thrills along the way, and I hope Pobi writes more about Lucas Page.

Can’t get enough of New York? Try The Newsmakers by Lis Wiehl or Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh.

Mulholland Books
Print, Kindle
£7.99

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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