Monday, August 12, 2013

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Five out of five stars

Homicide 69 is another excellent book from Sam Reaves, an author who doesn't have nearly the following nor the reputation that he deserves.

The book is set in the summer of 1969. Richard Nixon is in the White House; war is raging in Vietnam; Neal Armstrong is walking on the moon; the Manson family is on its murderous rampage, and American society is in the process of being torn apart.

Against that backdrop, Mike Dooley, a solid, decent homicide detective, is doing what he can to redress the injustices committed by his fellow Chicago residents against each other. He's also trying, with marginal success, to navigate the treacherous waters of his own personal life. And a veteran of World War II, Dooley worries day and night about the safety of his son Kevin, a Marine who has been deployed to Vietnam.

Late one night, Dooley and his partner are called to the scene of an especially horrific homicide. A young woman, Sally Kotowski, has been brutally tortured and murdered. Kotowski was a former Playboy Bunny who hung out with mobsters, and Dooley quickly concludes that her death was mob-related.

A solution to the murder appears almost magically, and Dooley's bosses are happy to sign off on the case and declare it closed. Dooley is not. He believes that the solution is too neat and tidy and that the real killers are still at large. Through a long and difficult summer, he pursues the case relentlessly, often on his own time and at the risk of destroying his own career. And his journey takes him deep into the dark side of Chicago life in the late 1960s.

Homicide 69 is much more than a conventional crime novel. The reader knows fairly early on who the guilty parties are and so this is not a "mystery" novel in the traditional sense. It is, at heart, the story of one lone man, struggling against seemingly impossible odds, to do the right thing and to achieve one very small measure of justice in a world gone mad.

It's a story brilliantly told. Reaves has captured perfectly the tenor of the time in which the story is set and he has created an absolutely riveting protagonist in Mike Dooley. Even at nearly 600 pages, the story is way too short, and one closes the book wishing that you could follow Dooley's career indefinitely.

After being hard to find for some time, Homicide 69 is now available in a new e-book edition. It's hard to imagine any fan of crime fiction who would not enjoy it.

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