April 19, 2010


In police procedural novels, the investigation usually drives the plot. Sometimes, however, the villain is so fascinating that you become more interested in him than in the investigation, and his actions, not the heroine’s, control what happens.
Adrian Quinn, an avenge-minded psychopath stalking homicide detective Marti MacAlister and other human prey, is the fascinating villain whose actions you follow in Eleanor Taylor Bland’s tenth Marti MacAlister novel Windy City Dying.

Adrian is a master of disguise and skilled at ambushing his human prey. He is, as Marti describes him, “not your typical killer.” He is an angry, educated Black man. He has several college degrees and graduated from Northwestern University at the head of his class. He also belonged to several humanitarian and social organizations in Chicago and received three humanitarian awards for community service.

Watching white men that he had trained get promoted over him and a white woman with less seniority and a lesser position get chosen over him at Wilburton and Associates, where he worked for 12 years, fueled Adrian’s anger. “Like any good black man, he smiled, praised the company, told everyone how pleased he was with is job, and accepted their praise, and even amazement, that he had come so far. Like any black man, he was angry.”

When a coworker revealed Adrian had embezzled money from the company, he killed the man and was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Two months after he is paroled from prison, he sets in motion his plan to avenge himself on the people who were involved in his arrest and conviction.

Adrian at first plans to kill the arresting officers, one of which was Johnny MacAlister, Marti’s deceased husband, the judge, jury foreman, and jurors. However, he wants to make them suffer, so instead of killing those who participated in his arrest and trial, he decides to kill the person closest to them. Even though Johnny MacAlister is dead, he still stalks Marti because somebody must pay for what Johnny did.

In the prologue, without leaving footprints in the snow, Adrian manages to get into the house through a window of Joseph Ramos, who handled his case on appeal, and kill Graciela Lara, a foster child living in the Ramos’s home, whom he believes to be Ramos’s daughter. Jose Ortiz, another foster child living in the home, is found kneeling beside the body with blood on his clothes.

Homicide detective Marti MacAlister and her partner Vik Jessenovik are investigating the death of an old man who froze to death because the landlord refused heat when they are ordered to the Ramos house. Soon after the investigation of the Lara homicide begins, they are called to investigate the stabbing death of a railroad conductor, which leads to cooperation with the Chicago police department that reveals several murders and violent attacks in Chicago. The Chicago police records show Adrian’s connection to Johnny and other victims involved in his arrest and conviction, and he becomes the prime suspect.

Adrian’s fear of dogs prevents him from getting near the MacAlister house because the guard dog, Trouble, patrols the outside. He bides his time, and the moment to attack presents itself when, coincidently, he spots Marti and Ben on the Expressway on their way to Chicago and rams their car, leaving Ben in a coma and Marti slightly injured. The deadly confrontation between him and Marti occurs in the hospital.

Marti recognizes Jose as one of the five throw away kids she rescued from a murderer four years ago (Dead Time). From her recognition is born the subplot: prove Jose is innocent and locate the other four kids. Bland’s concern for throw-away children is preachy but her use of Jose to kick start the plot is good plotting and provides the reason for the reappearance of the five throw-away children.

Because Windy City Dying is a whydunit, the suspense depends not on revealing the identity of the killer but on the gradual revelation of his motive and the dramatic confrontation between him and Marti in the hospital, a not entirely convincing scene.