The alphabet in crime fiction community meme has finally reached its destination. I, for one, have truly enjoyed the trip. We’ve visited all sorts of crime scenes in all sorts of sub-genres, and I know that I’ve added considerably to my already-too-long TBR list.
Before sharing my own contribution to this week’s 26th and final stop – the letter “Z” – I’d like to take a moment and thank Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. Kerrie’s leadership and organization of this meme has made it lots of fun, and I know it’s taken a fair amount of work to keep track of all of us, and to make the time and go to the effort to visit contributors’ blogs. Kerrie’s own blog is full of rich crime fiction information, fine reviews, fun things to do and helpful links. Please do visit her blog; you’ll be very glad that you did. I know I’m glad I follow it.
And now, for my own contribution to this week’s last stop on the crime fiction tour: I’ve chosen Mark Richard Zubro’s Another Dead Teenager, published in 1995. This is the third in Zubro’s series featuring Chicago police detectives Paul Turner and Buck Fenwick.
As the novel begins, Turner and Fenwick finish up some paperwork on a case they’ve just solved, and join some of their fellow detectives for lunch. Their friendly lunchtime bantering with their colleagues is interrupted by a call to a new case; the body of a brutally-murdered teenage boy has been found in an abandoned factory. When Turner and Fenwick get to the scene, they find out that the dead boy is Jake Goldstein, son of Ken Goldstein, a Chicago basketball legend and now beloved coach. Turner and Fenwick have been assigned the case because it’s bound to create media frenzy, and they can be trusted to do a careful investigation and handle the intense media scrutiny. The two detectives are just beginning their work when reports come in of another murdered teen, Frank Douglas, whose body has been found in a parking garage. Douglas is the son of Andy Douglas, former Olympic track and field gold medalist.
At first, Turner and Fenwick wonder if Goldstein and Douglas’ parents might have something do with their murders, but they’re soon cleared of suspicion. The detectives do learn some useful information from them, though. On the night of the murder, Goldstein and Douglas had gone together to watch a Chicago Bears football game, for which they had skybox passes. Then, they were escorted to the locker room to meet some of the Bears players. After that, no-one seems to know where the boys went or what happened to them. So, Turner and Fenwick and the team of people who work with them start the time-consuming and stressful process of interviewing everyone who knew the boys to see if they can find a motive for the murders.
On one hand, it turns out that no-one seems to have a grudge against the boys. They weren’t involved with drugs, gangs, or bullying. Their grades were good, their home lives were stable and they were well-liked. On the other hand, Turner and Fenwick do turn up some surprising information. For one thing, Douglas may have dabbled in satanic rites. Also, some bizarre sexual paraphernalia was found in Goldstein’s room. So there are some interesting leads to follow, and the detectives do just that. To their frustration, these leads don’t prove very helpful at all. Neither do the dozens of interviews the team has with the boys’ friends, acquaintances and teachers. Turner and Fenwick soon begin to suspect that these boys weren’t murdered for a personal reason. To them, that means that they might have been the victims of a serial killer. Just as the detectives begin to look at the case that way, Peter Volmer, a local soccer star with a very bright future, is savagely murdered in his parents’ home. Now, it seems even clearer that Turner and Fenwick are up against a serial murderer. The local media and the departmental brass become aware of this too, so the pressure to solve this case quickly gets even greater. For Turner, the case becomes personal when his teenage son Brian, an athlete himself, has a narrow escape from the murderer.
In the end, with a lot of help from a crack computer team, Turner and Fenwick are able to make the connections among the three murders they’re dealing with, and associate those murders with some past murders. This allows them to find out who the killer is. As it turns out, Goldstein, Douglas and Volmer have been murdered for a reason that has its roots in a traumatic incident in the killer’s past.
The pace of Another Dead Teenager is swift, the timing appropriate and Zubro provides believable clues. The characterization is, for the most part, well-drawn and the dialogue is especially authentic. The killer and the motive are not, perhaps, particularly original. However, the story is still engaging.
Two very appealing aspects of this novel are the realistic portrait it offers of police work, and the authentic Chicago setting. Throughout the novel, we follow Turner, Fenwick and their team as they track down leads, interview witnesses, deal with police bureaucracy and interact with other police and government departments. In real life, police work is often a matter of patient (and sometimes frustrating) tracking down of information and slowly putting together a case, and we see this clearly in Another Dead Teenager. We also see the solid relationship that detectives often have (and depend on) with their department partners. Turner and Fenwick’s working relationship is authentically portrayed; in fact, Turner and Fenwick's trust in each other and respect for each other is obvious throughout the novel. This lends a great deal to the novel as a police procedural. So does the way that both detectives depend on others in the department to get information and help sift through evidence.
The Chicago setting is also very appealing, especially for those who are familiar with that city. Zubro paints a very clear picture of Chicago, its landmarks and neighborhoods and its surrounding suburbs, and that helps in understanding how the plot unfolds. His attachment to the city is obvious and his portrait of it authentic. I must confess to bias here, though, because I happen to like Chicago very much, myself.
There are several scenes of Turner’s home life, in which we get to know his two sons, Brian and Jeff, his neighbor, Rose Talucci, and his partner, Ben Vargas. Those add to the roundness of Turner’s character, and there are some interesting sub-plots connected with Turner’s home life. Zubro also addresses several issues relating to gays and homosexuality, both in Turner’s private life (he is gay and juggling single parenthood and his developing relationship with his new partner) and the case. However, the real attraction of this novel comes from the police investigation and the “inside look” that the reader gets at life as a homicide detective. On that score, it’s worth a read.
Thanks again, Kerrie, for safely leading us “home.” Now…what will you think of next to put us on our mettle? ; )