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Friday, March 28, 2008

Big City, Bad Blood ($7.99), by Sean Chercover

When I hear the word “outfit,” I think of an outdoor adventure store or a hip, urban clothing empire. Apparently I should be thinking of organized crime. Although I have been to Chicago many times, I didn’t know that this was the sobriquet for the Midwest version of the Mafia/La Cosa Nostra/The Mob. It wasn’t printed in my guidebook.

Sean Chercover -- whose author photo on the back cover makes him look like a “made man” himself -- is a former private investigator. In keeping with the advice handed down to many a budding writer, Chercover has written about what he knows. Ray Dudgeon, star of Chercover’s first novel, is a Chicago private investigator.

Dudgeon is also a former journalist and a man whose self-professed high principles have cost him an easy life. I qualify the ranking of his principles, because Dudgeon wanders down the road not taken several times through the course of the story, and one of the judgments the reader is expected to make is whether he has gone too far.

At first Dudgeon’s assignment seems fairly straightforward. He must guard a film location manager who is scheduled to testify at the trial of an Outfit member. Working at odds sometimes with the film’s producer who wants publicity for his film, Dudgeon manages to keep his client alive as attempts are made on his life. Ray soon realizes, however, that there is more to what his client saw than he originally thought. Dudgeon’s involvement with The Outfit becomes increasingly more involved, as secrets involving people whose jobs ostensibly are to serve and protect the public are dredged up.

In what is mostly an entertaining story in a hard-boiled detective style, Chercover combines the graphic with the tender and provides an authentic-sounding Chicago background.

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