Crime fiction’s rising star

Advance readers have compared Sean Chercover’s thrilling and just-published crime novel, “Trigger City” (William Morrow), with the books of everyone from Robert Crais to Michael Connelly, but I would throw two other personal favorites — James Lee Burke and Lee Child — into the pot as well.
Chercover has found a way to connect the humanistic and politically-charged world view of Burke’s Dave Robicheaux books with the adrenaline-fueled storytelling of Child’s Jack Reacher adventures.
The result is terrific entertainment that comments on the real world around us in a very disquieting manner.
“Trigger City” is the second novel Chercover has written about a Chicago private investigator named Ray Dudgeon, who went up against the Second City’s mafia in the debut book, “Big City, Bad Blood.”
Dudgeon faces a much larger foe in the new book — the shadow world of “Homeland Security” and private contracters like Halliburton who are able to do the dirtiest work of our government with no real oversight.
The detective is plunged into a very scary realm of total paranoia that is reminiscent of those great 1970s Hollywood thrillers such as “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Parallax View” where the heroes were taught tragic lessons about our government’s complicity in violent cover-ups.
The book begins with Dudgeon being asked to look into a murder that the Chicago police have already ruled an open-and-shut case. Joan Richmond, the head of payroll for a department store chain, is shot and killed by a freelance IT consultant, Steven Zhang, who returned to his home and killed himself. Zhang had been showing signs of increasing mental distress at work and left a written description Dudgeon tells us sounded “all kinds of crazy.”
Joan’s retired military man father, Isaac, wants Ray to find out the real reason his daughter died — the old man is racked with guilt about his distant relationship with Joan.
Ray needs money for a serious shoulder operation (an injury sustained in the first novel) and decides to take the case.
He quickly learns that both Joan and Steven worked together at a Halliburton-like private contractor before they arrived at the department store offices — it becomes apparent that they might have obtained information about a covert intelligence operation and it got them both killed.
Chercover does a masterful job of building tension around the case, making it clear fairly early on that Ray might have stepped into a nightmarish cover-up trap that he will never be able to get out of (and, worse than that, it might cost the lives of friends and associates).
Ray is a wonderful character because his cynicism is leavened with compassion and humor. He is carrying a torch for the nurse who broke off her relationship with him in “Big City, Bad Blood” and has assigned his partner, Vinnie, to follow his ex’s new beau to make sure he’s an OK guy. At least, that’s what Ray tells himself — but we know (and he knows too) that he is really keeping tabs on his ex-lover, hoping he can figure out a way to win her back.
Throughout the novel, Ray struggles with the physical and mental scars of the terrible beating he survived at the end of his last case. Unlike some of the absurdly indestructible P.I.s in other novels, Dudgeon is seriously hurting months after the beating — and he is suffering from stress nightmares that keep taking him back to the day he almost died.
“Trigger City” continues Chercover’s acerbic examination of the ways in which his beloved Chicago has been gentrifying and losing the colorful locally-owned bars and restaurants he loves.
The neighborhoods are changing too:
“The week before, I’d gotten another letter from my landlord — just a friendly reminder that time was running out. The building was going condo. After renovations it would be called the Burnham Park Lofts. Which was funny because it was about fifteen blocks south of Burnham Park, and funnier still because Burnham Park was a fake name given by developers to the neighborhood properly known as the South Loop.”
I love the two Ray Dudgeon books and can’t wait for Chercover to produce a third.