★ ★ ★ 1/2
I’m continuing to enjoy the Smokey Dalton series centering on Smokey, an African-American man who solves problems for his friends. In this one, Smokey is returning home with his girlfriend Laura when they hear an ominous noise in his neighbor Marcella’s apartment. When they check it out, they discover a woman badly bleeding. They rush her to the hospital where Laura has to fight with hospital staff to get the woman seen, as it appears that she’s had an illegal abortion. It turns out Smokey’s met the woman once before, and she’s also connected to his small circle of Chicago friends. Marcella begs Smokey to find out who the butcher who performed the abortion is, so she can make sure no one from the underground network uses him. Smokey reluctantly agrees, half-heartedly contacting names on Marcella’s provider list. At the same time, he works for Laura’s company paying site visits to various buildings her company owns. When a murder follows, Smokey finds he is unable to remain disengaged.
The story is a chilling and timely reminder of a time not so long ago when abortions were illegal. Although Nelscott took the ethically easy road in this story, the ramifications remain no less important as multiple states attempt to restrict or ban access to abortions and to make providing abortions as complicated and dangerous as possible for health care practitioners. It is also a frightening reminder–or education–of the liberties the medical establishment would take in sterilizing women they deemed ‘unfit’–usually women who were poor and/or of color.
Unlike prior books, this is relatively fast-paced, taking place over a short time period. As usual, there’s a side mystery, but this time Nelscott doesn’t allow Smokey to get too far bogged down in the details. Atmosphere is nicely developed, from the tension-filled hospital waiting room to the dangerous tightrope Smokey walks with the gangs. Laura and Smokey have better settled into their relationship, but Smokey remains troubled and challenged by Jimmy. The ending is satisfying but somewhat ethically ambiguous.
Overall a satisfying mystery read that also provides the reader with insight into challenges faced by a black man and his friends in a time of tremendous cultural upheaval.
Three and a half stars, rounding up for the unique setting.