William Morrow / October 2008
Reviewed by: Martel Sardina
One of the challenges all novelists face is making sure that their next book is as good – if not better – than their last. When the author’s debut novel goes on to be nominated for several major awards – as Sean Chercover’s Big City, Bad Blood did – the author is under even more pressure to exceed reader expectations with his sophomore effort. As good as Chercover’s debut was, this reviewer is happy to report that Trigger City is better.
Chercover’s hero, Ray Dudgeon, is back, and though he survived his battle with some of The Outfit’s toughest criminals, that doesn’t mean he’s left his demons behind. Ray is still reeling from his breakup with Jill, and he’s second-guessing his skills as a private investigator after a case he works in the interim leaves an innocent woman dead. Not that it matters — his skills haven’t been put to use much in recent months. After most of his good gigs dry up, Ray has no choice but to go back to process serving and divorce cases until his truce with The Outfit comes through.
The loss of income has also prevented Ray from getting a much-needed shoulder surgery. While Ray waits for things to turn around financially, he manages his pain with illegally obtained Percocets and drinks a bit more than he should. Ray can run but he can’t hide from his past. Everywhere he goes, everyone he knows reminds him of what he’s lost so far. That’s what makes Chicago Ray’s “Trigger City.”
When a grieving father offers to hire Ray to investigate his daughter’s death, Ray knows he shouldn’t take the case. Joan Richmond was murdered. Her killer, Steven Zhang, left a signed confession at the scene before returning home and killing himself. The facts of Joan’s murder are black and white. Chicago PD considers the case closed. But Joan’s father, a retired Army Intelligence Colonel, doesn’t care what the facts say. He wants the truth. And Ray knows that when the client’s goal is to find the truth, he should run away as fast as he can. The truth hurts. How much more pain is Ray prepared to take?
As Ray searches for answers, he is pushed both professionally and personally to find out what kind of man he really is. The pursuit of truth leads Ray into the dark underbelly of a world where military contractors, intelligence operatives, and government leaders play by a different set of rules. Rules that we know exist, but pretend they don’t to save ourselves from living in constant fear. Ray must navigate these shark-infested waters carefully until he can figure out how not to become collateral damage in a war he never meant to become involved in.
Will Ray turn a blind eye to glaring inconsistencies in order to wrap up the case quickly and send Colonel Richmond on his way? Will he allow ex-girlfriend Jill to get away for good without putting up a fight? Is he still able to discern between good and evil? And as he makes those choices, can he live with the man that he has become as a result of the experiences he’s endured?
While Chercover’s debut novel was enjoyable on the whole, it was his voice that made the story shine more than the events that unfolded. Many crime novels set in Chicago have some aspect of Mafia involvement. The surprise was not that Chercover chose to battle The Outfit, but in getting to know his character intimately along the way. In Trigger City, while the voice is all Dudgeon, this time Chercover’s tightly woven plot is the gem. Readers will turn page after page while they curse him for writing such a spine-tingling noir adventure.
Purchase Trigger City by Sean Chercover.