Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - Another Dead Teenager by Mark Richard Zubro

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? ; )


  1. This sounds like a great read. I like the fact that despite all the leads, the reason for the killings has something to do with the killer's past. I enjoy reading when the author gives you tidbits from the past and then wraps it all up together.

    I have enjoyed the alphabet in crime fiction series. It has been interesting to see what book would be selected each week. I hate to see it come to an end. Maybe the next one could deal with numbers. Looking forward to seeing what comes next.

  2. Mason - I like it very much, too, when a mystery is connected to someone's past, and part of the challenge is to uncover those past secrets. Another Dead Teenager really is an engaging read with a solid pace and some interesting characters. And Zubro certainly feeds out a lot of "red herrings." What I like is the way the police work their way to the truth as they eliminate one lead after another...

    I'm going to miss this meme too, actually, and I'm glad you've enjoyed it. I've gotten ideas for dozens of books to read, and I've been reminded of lots of others : ). I don't know what's coming next, but whatever it is, I'm sure I'll learn from it.

  3. Sounds like another good one Margot. I have read a couple of Zubro's books in the other series he writes (Tom Mason/Scott Carpenter) but haven't tried one of these yet. I learned all about Chicago from Sara Paretsky's books and when I finally went there I felt like I knew the place so it would be fun to read more books set there.

    I will miss the alphabet too

  4. Bernadette - I know what you mean about missing the alphabet meme...

    If you like Mason/Carpenter series that Zubro writes, I think you will like this one. I honestly prefer this series, myself (although I like the other); I think it's the realistic look at life at the police sstation I find appealing.

    I know what you mean about Peretsky's books, too. For a few years, my family and I lived in Illinois, so I went to Chicago occasionally. Peretsky's books take me right back to that time...

  5. And ANOTHER book is placed on my TBR list...

    Congrats on finishing the alphabet, Margot - it's been a interesting and informative ride.

  6. Elspeth - Thanks : )! I've really enjoyed the "journey" myself, and I've learned a lot, too. Not to mention the many additions to my own TBR list...

  7. My TBR list is very small. I need to add a few books to it. Love the picture of the cockatoo. I used to work at a pet store and raised scores of exotic baby birds like cockatoos and such.

    Stephen Tremp

  8. Stephen - I wish I had a smaller TBR list; when I think about how many books I want to read, I wonder if I'll ever have the time to read them.

    The cockatoo is "borrowed" from Kerrie's excellent blog, Mysteries in Paradise. I wanted to give her blog a special mention; it's a wonderful source of crime fiction reviews, information, and lots more.

    It must have been really interesting to actually raise exotic birds. I've never done that, myself, although I've raised other pets.