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City For Ransom
Author: Robert W. Walker
Publisher: Avon Mystery, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, New York 10022-5299, 2006
Length: pp. 324. $6.99 pb. 
Reviewed by Marie Asner

Chicago author Robert W. Walker introduces a new character in his newest series of detective/mystery novels. Alastair Ransom is a bear of a man, and at the turn of the 20th century, serves the city of Chicago as a police officer for whom brute force is just part of the job. City For Ransom is the first in a series of books about Inspector Ransom, with book two, “Shadows In The White City” due in November 2006.

Robert W. Walker is familiar to readers for his “Instinct Series” (Unnatural Instinct, Blind Instinct, and Bitter Instinct.)  If that weren’t enough, there are also the “Edge Series,” (Cold Edge, Double Edge, Cutting Edge, and Final Edge.(prayer))  Walker is a graduate of Northwestern University and says he would rather write and teach than pursue a doctorate.

City For Ransom is full of Chicago history from the Great Chicago Fire to the beginning of the 20th century and the use of telephone, cameras and the idea of fingerprints as a method of identification. The latest equipment is available for the Chicago police force and they are needed as a serial killer is on the loose. This mad man uses a wire garrote as his method of disposal and then finishes the job with fire. The idea of trying to figure out what makes this guy tick, in other words a profiler, is almost unheard of, but in Ransom’s world, someone tries it. 

Besides Inspector Ransom, there is his right hand man, Drimmer, and the photographer Ransom uses, Keane. The use of photography is also important here. Not only is there a killer to contend with, but also Ransom has to deal with Kohler, a high-ranking police official who is trying to take Ransom down. Then, enter someone who practices phrenology, which was thought of as a science then, but is known to be useless now. Dr. Tewes is the practitioner, but unknown to Ransom, Tewes is a woman in disguise. She can’t practice medicine because she is a woman, so has to go to great lengths to disguise herself and practice her profession. 

City For Ransom is not a fast read. It is carefully filled with historical data, plus a few speeches on women’s rights of that time (can’t vote), women in medicine (can’t practice it) and women in general (men get all the breaks.) Not only that, but the reader must be aware of when Dr. Tewes is in a male disguise and when Tewes is “his sister, Jane” and in female attire. One must then keep track of whom this person is speaking to at any given time and what the conversation is about.

The killer dispatches his victims for a diabolical purpose. Eventually, the reader finds out the reason, and this reminds one of Dean Koontz territory of horror. The reader feels as though they were there looking over the Inspector's shoulder. By the end of the book, the reader is acquainted with Ransom’s world and looking forward to more adventures. The writing flows with witty dialogue, particularly from the Tewes character, which has to be on her/his toes to keep ahead of discovery. Inspector Ransom is a troubled man with a troubled past that haunts him. The one bright spot is Dr. Tewes daughter, who is shown to have a interest in police work, and can take care of herself. With all the characters in place, the one of Dr. Tewes sticks out and one wonders if Robert W. Walker will take this person into his/her own series.

Copyright 2006 Marie Asner
Submitted 4/8/06


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