Despite having read and enjoyed Thornton’s Perils of Praline, I didn’t pick up on this series until the fourth volume, but I was mightily impressed. I enjoyed the grittiness and local Chicago flavor, which was never overdone, the meticulous depiction of the early Eighties, and Private Detective Nick Nowak himself–a well-rounded character as faithful to his own principles as he is flawed in his actions. Thankfully, none of those reasons for liking the Boystown series has disappeared in the fifth installment, Murder Book.
What has disappeared is Nowak’s lover, Harker, who is found dead. As the fourth book indicated, Harker was diagnosed with AIDS (it’s the early Eighties, remember, so it’s not HIV) so his death was not unexpected. In a marvelous opening twist, however, we find Harker has become the latest victim of the notorious Bughouse Slasher referenced in earlier books. Nowak figures Harker had finally gotten too close to the truth and, through his grief, he launches his own investigation to rid Chicago of the serial killer once and for all.
Nowak’s grief provides some of the most poignant moments in the book as he tries everything to work through it including work itself, grief sex, and a visit to the hypnotist downstairs from his office. Thornton’s depiction of this is dead-on as he allows Nowak’s desperation and loneliness subside just long enough to be more powerful when it returns. Speaking of returning, Harker’s old-school Czech mother also returns for a brief yet pivotal appearance, as does Christian, the reporter wanna-be Harker was close to.
Thornton’s prose is wonderfully spare, making it as quick and certain as the storyline. There’s not much window dressing here, and that’s not what I read this kind of book for anyway. That said, even though the book is plot-driven, we’re given enough access to Nowak’s head so that we can empathize with him and understand why he sometimes does the things he does, and Thornton is excellent at delineating those positive and, at times, self-destructive thoughts.
Thornton’s excellent writing, credible plot, and well-drawn and involving characters add up to an engaging and interesting entry for this series. So many avenues are closed at this juncture, however, that one wonders what Nowak will do next. Whatever it is, I’ll certainly check it out. And so should you.
© 2013 Jerry L. Wheeler