Saturday, September 16, 2017

Book Review: 'Wallace Street' by Tess Devlin

California author Tess Devlin appears to be making her publishing debut with WALLACE STREET. She writes with authority and with a keen eye for mystery and the variations of approach to solving crimes.

The time frame is the 1950s, the setting is Chicago, and the referenced period now over a half century ago emphasizes the fact that sexual predators were not recognized as a genre as they most assuredly are today. Taking that into account the novel gradually spells out a mystery that defies easy interpretation until the surprising ending – the true sign of a fine mystery!

Tess establishes the mood with her opening sentences - ‘1952 - Chicago, Englewood District, Southwest Side Walter Storm hiked up his patrolman’s collar against the wind. He didn’t recognize the brewing storm… an undertow that was about to transform this neighborhood and would change it forever. It came from the north and the gusts emanated the acrid, eye-watering air of the Union Stockyards. It was the
fetid smell of death. The miniature cowbell hanging over the door tinkled as he stepped into the corner store. “Hey, Walter, how’s it goin’?” “Good”, he smiled at the ‘I Like Ike’ button pinned to her apron. “You better not let the precinct captain see that”. “Yeah, well next time they shouldn’t put up an egghead. And don’t forget it’s still a free country”. “Okay, okay”, he laughed putting his hands up defensively. “Your usual?” “Yeah.” Min had grown up in the small apartment behind the store. When her father died it seemed natural for her to take over running the store, it was muscle memory. Like most of the neighborhood businesses, Min’s was a place taken for granted that it was always there and always would be. Even after she married and had a child it didn’t occur to her that there even would be a different future; she felt part of the store, secure in it and in her place in the neighborhood. Her daughter now occupied the same room in which she had slept as a child. The only chink in her life was her husband; but every life had its dents…Ralph was hers. From behind the counter she pulled a pack of Lucky’s with a book of matches then reached for a handful of penny suckers and slid them across the counter to Walter. Min slowly shook her head. “Every day you come in here and it’s always the same. Anybody’d think all them kids was yours”, she smiled. “Well, in a way they are”, he grinned. The cowbell made another announcement. Min’s smile faded. Turning his head Walter’s eyes locked with Tony Russo’s. Russo stood by the door, his signature diamond tie pin sparkling against the silk tie. The two men simply nodded. Walter picked up the cigarettes and lollipops. “Thanks, be seein’ ya Min”. Walter knew Russo and Min had business to do and he knew what that business was, but if he acknowledged it, he’d have to do something about it…and he didn’t want to do anything about it.‘ We are engaged and ready for the story to roll out.

Complex with multiple characters to meet and understand, the synopsis holds it together: ‘ A serial killer preys on young girls and the neighborhood is distressed and seeking justice or better yet revenge. Who will find the killer, the detectives, the mobsters, the beat cop or one of the distraught neighbors? Tension grows as the bodies pile up. The neighborhood is boiling over with rage. Everyone in this hardscrabble neighborhood has secrets, but for some it's the biggest secret - murder! A surprising source of justice ends the murders.’
Superb writing form a woman who knows her craft – and this is a debut novel. She is most assuredly an author to watch closely. Grady Harp, September 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.