A Nick Nowak, Boystown Mystery by Marshall Thornton
Review: Police resources are stretched thin in Chicago in Fall 1982 as the hunt for the Tylenol killer puts the national spotlight on the city, leaving few to investigate the murder of one of their own in Murder Book, the fifth entry — and second full-length novel — in the "Boystown" series by Marshall Thornton.
Bert Harker was the lead investigator on the Bughouse Slasher murder investigation … and the seventh victim of the serial killer he was trying to catch. Harker's partner, Frank Connors, is assigned to take over the case and his first order of business is to retrieve Harker's "murder book" from the house he shared with private investigator Nick Nowak, an ex-Chicago cop himself and Bert's gay lover. Before turning it over, Nick surreptitiously makes a copy of it but apparently is a little sloppy in reassembling it. "A couple of pages were in the wrong sections," Connors tells Nick. "Bert liked everything in its place. … Always yelling at me when I got the paperwork wrong. That's how I knew you copied it." As he's already overwhelmed with the Tylenol killer case, Connors let's Nick keep his copy, knowing he'll do some investigating on his own. Which he does, hitting one dead end after another. Until he realizes that maybe, just maybe, those pages were not out of order, and that Harker intentionally put them that way. That maybe he was closer to identifying the Bughouse Slasher than even his partner knew.
The author does a fine job of setting the stage for this story. Not only were the Chicago Tylenol murders front page news in September and October, 1982, but a recent disease identified by the CDC — AIDS — was first named at the same time. And while it did not get widespread attention, it was important news within the gay community, one of the few groups singularly affected by its symptoms. Both these facts play into the primary — and rather weakly developed — plot here. A number of plot points don't quite work, including that the police weren't devoting at least some full-time resources to the murder of one of their own. To be sure, he was a gay cop and it's possible — given the time frame of the story — one is supposed to infer that that made the case less important. Too, it's never quite clear why the Bughouse Slasher killed Harker, especially since he didn't fit the profile of all his previous victims. This key element is glossed over with little explanation. That isn't to say there aren't some positive points here. The character of Nick Nowak is strongly developed, the story being told from his perspective as he reasons through all the data he has and moves the case forward. And the manner in which he comes to realize what Harker was doing — and why — is dramatic and very effective storytelling. Overall, Murder Book works well as a period crime novel, though the "period" is far more accomplished than the "crime".
Acknowledgment: the author provided an eARC of Murder Book for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Murder Book: Chicago, Illinois
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Murder Book by Marshall Thornton — A Nick Nowak, Boystown Mystery
Publisher: MLR Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: April 2013
List Price: $12.99
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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