City for Ransom

Written by Robert W. Walker
Review by Ken Kreckel


Inspector Alastair Ransom is faced with a diabolical and ruthless killer who is stalking the streets of Chicago during the Great Exposition of 1893. As the crimes continue, the inspector not only finds himself under great pressure to stop them, but he also uncovers disturbing personal connections to the murderer. Worse, Ransom is plagued by an enigmatic little man who, with the blessings of the Police Chief, intrudes upon his investigation. He can’t decide if this strange character is charlatan or scientist, doctor or pioneering criminologist. His investigation becomes twofold: not only must he apprehend the killer, but he is compelled to discover this man’s secret, a truth which turns out to be one that he could scarcely imagine.

Described in the manner of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ransom is nevertheless no Sherlock. Hard-boiled, physically and emotionally scarred, the inspector has as many of his own demons to fight as criminals on the streets, and those streets are mean indeed. Fans of Erik Larson’s highly successful and in many ways similar The Devil in the White City will recognize them, and the author portrays those streets in all their grittiness. Characters are likewise drawn sharply, and provide much of the interest in this book. The plot does not fall short either. Complex and multifaceted, it challenges the reader. While some might find this story at times too outrageous, the novel succeeds both as a mystery and an interesting read. It is an intelligent and absorbing work, which, although written in the somewhat elaborate style of those times, is ultimately satisfying.