Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review: Trigger City, Sean Chercover

William Morrow, 2008, 978-0-06-112869-1, 295 p.

I knew within the first dozen pages of Big City, Bad Blood that I liked the character of private detective Ray Dudgeon. That liking followed me to the end of the book and through short stories in Chicago Blues and Killer Year. I waited for the publication of Trigger City with high anticipation and wasn't disappointed.

Trigger City opens some ten months after the events in Big City, Bad Blood. Ray is still suffering physical and emotional injuries. He needs an operation on his shoulder and he misses Jill, the girlfriend and love of his life who couldn't accept his occupation.

He is hired by Isaac Richmond to find out why his daughter Joan died at the hands of an employee Steven Zhang. Zhang apparently manifested signs of schizophrenia prior to killing Joan and then himself, leaving a note claiming Joan was a threat to American democracy. Richmond doesn't doubt the police report but wants to know what caused Zhang to do what he did.

Ray discovers that Joan, an accountant, previously worked for Hawk River, a military contractor, as did Steven Zhang. Very soon the case goes from a fairly straight forward investigation that might take a couple of days to something a lot more complicated.

Chercover was himself a private investigator and I believe that must have influenced the way he wrote the character Ray Dudgeon. Ray makes mistakes but he isn't stupid. His actions are those you would expect a reasonable person to do within the context of the exaggerated action of a detective story. There is none of the "I know something but I won't tell anyone until I'm sure" or "I'll put this crucial piece of evidence in my desk and leave for the night" or "I should call someone before going into this building but I won't and gosh aren't I surprised that someone was waiting for me" silliness that has annoyed me in other books. Instead we have a solid investigation that moves the story along with any "what did he do that" moments.

Looking at the cover of Trigger City your impression is that it refers to gun play within the story. Very early in the book Chercover establishes that, for Ray, "Chicago was full of triggers. Chicago was Trigger City." These are triggers to memories that wake Ray up in a cold sweat and help explain his mental state and developing awareness of why he does what he does. This is handled very well, helps the reader appreciate Dudgeon as a person and why he couldn't continue his previous career as an investigative reporter.

The story is told in first person by Ray. I know the arguments against first person narrative in favor of the omniscient observer but it is one I enjoy. there is something about being in the head of the narrator and knowing only what he or she knows that appeals to me. Chercover also comes up with those good punchy sentences that you like in a hard-boiled detective such as
The wall was blue, a dark enough shade to keep the blood stains from showing through.


...left me sitting there with half a pint of stout and a knot in my gut.

There are other smaller details that make this book work for me, like music. Music is important to Ray and the references to the music he likes, listens to in the story, help round him out as a person.

Trigger City is a really good read, a solid, interesting story with a character you care about.

I recommend it highly but you need to read Big City, Bad Blood first.