City of Stones

Written by Dan Cohen
Review by Ellen Keith

Valen and Cohen have collaborated on an intricate (sometimes too intricate) tale of police corruption, anti-Semitism, and fraud in 1950s Minneapolis. Detective Jake Cafferty is the ostensible hero of this hard-boiled mystery. He’s a recovering alcoholic with a lost love and although that veers very close to cliché, he’s focused on justice in a morally bankrupt department. The cast of characters also includes crooked beat cops, an ambitious young detective who becomes Cafferty’s new partner, and the partner’s ex-girlfriend, the first female attorney to be hired in the District Attorney’s office.

When one of the crooked cops is murdered, suspicion falls upon two Jewish brothers and they, in turn, are killed in a police shootout in which a cover-up swiftly follows. Cafferty and Kate Dawson, in the DA’s office, are the ones to dig in their heels while the rest of the department gives a collective shrug, case solved. There are many more suspicious deaths before the book concludes, including one close to Cafferty so it’s not a spoiler to say this triggers the recovering alcoholic.

There’s an air of melancholy about the book, both in the dreary Minneapolis weather and the uncertainty that the good guys will prevail. The authors have crafted a narrative full of action that I sometimes found challenging to follow, but there is no denying that this is a classic hard-boiled rather than a pastiche of one. Part of that may be due to the themes of anti-Semitism and police corruption being resonant today.