While Thin Walls was an enjoyable read, it did not hold up to the amazing, complex storytelling of the prior two books in the Smokey Dalton series.
Smokey and his sort-of-son, Jimmy are settling into Chicago after the events of the Democratic National Convention. Smokey lost his job at the Hilton, so he’s finding work doing odd jobs. A woman comes to him looking for help resolving her husband’s murder. Not only have the police not made any progress, Smokey discovers they aren’t even working the case at all. There are troubles on the home front as well, with Jimmy approached by the local gang members and Laura facing stiff, connected opposition in her attempt to wrest control of her father’s company from its board.
Characterization continues to shine. Off the top of my head, almost no one in Smokey’s sphere feels cardboard cutout; they all have a variety of positive and negative traits, but generally good motivations. It translates into keeping me interested in the story without thinking the outcome was entirely predictable. Mostly people are just people, responding to events from their perspective. However, I appreciate Nelscott’s affirmation that people can change if they try–and if they are given the benefit of the doubt. In the era of the anti-hero, this is highly welcome.
The ethics of the story are solidly in place. I’d highly recommend this to most anyone, just so they can get a feel for being black in the late sixties, and how even ‘progressive’ cities were cesspools of hate. It isn’t even a thread through the book so much as a rope tying everything together. Crossing race lines is the worst crime of all, and Smokey is a man who does it professionally and personally. While some of the discussions regarding cross-culturalism are quite overt, it’s a lesson many of us need to learn, and to remember. There’s something to be said for ‘mainstream’ books making this part of a thematic inclusion. I tend to find it instructive–there are people around that lived through this period, and while wounds may be healed, it’s likely they are still scarred. The events in this story foreshadow the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
The weakness here is in the narrative, which stumbles from one distracting event to another–much like real life. Search for the crime scene photographer takes us to a Black Panther rally, to the home of a couple of neighbor boys who were in the park seeking a lost watch, and to the home of a pleasant Jewish woman and her photographer son. There’s a major event with them which takes more than a couple of scenes and becomes a minor lesson for Smokey’s own life. When Smokey also takes on finding the watch, it gets to be a bit much. While it all almost connects, it just feels more stuttering beats than smooth jazz. Smokey himself becomes frazzled with all his loose ends, so I suppose Nelscott achieves a congruence in plotting and characterization. Still, it leaves the reader also feeling sort of frazzled and incomplete.
Don’t get me wrong; this is still an enjoyable book and well worth the time. It just didn’t speak to me as loudly as the first two did. Recommended for mystery fans and anyone currently living in America.
Three and a half stars