Marti MacAlister, Eleanor Taylor Bland's popular African-American heroine, is forced to confront some extremely personal demons from long ago-her husband Johnny MacAlister is long-buried, but now someone from Johnny's past is back, looking for him, and Marti fears she knows who it might be.
In the meantime, her work as a suburban Chicago homicide detective has taken her back in time in another way, to a group of children she once counseled, each now four years older and with four more year's worth of problems. There's LaShawna, now seventeen and with her own four-year-old daughter; Padgett, all grown up at twelve but still living with his alcoholic mother; and then Jose, fifteen, who's in the most trouble of them all. He's been accused of murder, but the Jose that Marti remembers could not have committed such a terrible crime. Her first step is to find out what could have happened in the past four years to lead Jose to such a desperate act, and she hopes her second step will be to prove his innocence.
It won't be easy, though; just what's going on with this tight group of kids, and how does it relate to the increasingly foreboding sense of doom Marti gets about the mystery man who's nosing around the remnants of her distant past? She's not sure, but she knows she must figure it all out, and soon, before another of the children, or even Marti herself, falls into grave danger. Windy City Dying is another taut, absorbing read from one of the masters of mystery fiction.
Bland's 10th mystery to feature African-American detective Marti MacAlister (after 2001's Whispers in the Dark) provides plenty of family interest but is a bit light on police procedure. Marti and her husband, Ben, have relocated to Lincoln Prairie, Ill., a Chicago suburb, where Marti hopes she can escape big city crime as a "peace officer." But the release from prison of a vengeance-seeking criminal from her past dashes this hope. When 16-year-old Graciela Lara gets her throat cut, Marti and her partner, Matthew "Vik" Jessenovik, investigate. The tension mounts as Marti and Vik realize that several troubled children she once counseled, now in their teens, could provide clues to Graciela's murder. Marti and Ben's respectable suburban life, while far from uniformly rosy, makes a striking contrast to the precarious existence of kids caught up in the welfare system. Here perhaps more than usual, the author's well-drawn characters and their personal relationships overshadow the crime solving. The book's dark theme and grim portrayal of juvenile services won't be to every taste, but fans of challenging, socially conscious mysteries will be well rewarded. (Dec. 16) Forecast: An attractive, arty jacket gives no clue to content, other than to signal an African-American heroine. Ethnicity, however, is not a major focus of the story. Handselling has no doubt ensured this series success in the past, and is likely to continue to do so. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.