Days of Rage by Kris Nelscott

Days of Rage

Read May 2016
Recommended for fans of historical mystery
 ★     ★     ★    1/2

Book series have a certain degree predictability: familiar characters, a known setting, the writing style, plotting, details important to the author. I have no doubt that that is a double-edged sword for an author, as it becomes challenging to write new stories without disappointing reader expectations for the familiar and yet avoid boredom. Days of Rage seems like the book Nelscott decided to push her series boundaries, resulting in only moderate success.

Smokey is investigating on of Study Investments’ older homes that has recently become vacant. The property manager was recently found dead, and the house still has lingering stench. Investigating the basement reveals a concealed door leading to a bricked room and skeletons inside. He and Laura discuss their options, but both are afraid that either the Chicago police will use it against Laura, or her former board of directors will, so they decide to follow a protocol of investigating on their own but using police evidentiary techniques by bringing in a nationally known forensics specialist and a local mortician. This protocol will hopefully allow them to gather enough information while bringing some justice to the victims, much in the way justice was obtained for black victims of police violence after official cover-ups. Meanwhile, Chicago continues to experience protests as the trial for the Chicago Eight has started.

The story ranges back in time to 1916 when the first of the discovered bodies disappeared. Very slowly, Smokey is able to contact still-living relatives, bringing the time period to life. It’s an interesting concept but I’m not entirely sure it always works. Smokey isn’t just about work, so the narrative isn’t either, but instead of achieving a seamless back and forth, its punctuated by awkward home interludes following the Mets with Jimmy, library visits and traffic as he travels around the city. In contrast to earlier books, there isn’t much about the Chicago Eight or the associated riots, but there are additional socio-political details scattered in about the Black Panther Party and a young teen who was killed protesting for safer traffic signals. While it’s interesting, it doesn’t mesh very well with the sequences from 1916.

Smokey’s relationship with Laura appears on the outs again, which is not well integrated within the narrative. Smokey will think about the state of their relationship–and it will usually be at the opposite condition of the last book; I found myself wondering why it had changed or was even included. Autobiographical detail perhaps?

I would have enjoyed more time spent in the ‘current’ setting of 1969. Hints about the trial reveal that the Chicago Eight became the Chicago Seven after the lone black man, Bobby Seale, was separated out of the group for contempt. Ultimately sentenced to four years, further research reveals he was the only one to actually serve prison time. The one benefit to the historical mystery from the 1916s is the insight to the tremendous legacy of police brutality embedded in the Chicago police department.

I’ve made remarks before about my lack of historical appreciation, and this book did a great deal to change my perception of current events. Recent police camera videos clearly demonstrated Chicago police over-reacting to young black men–Laquan McDonald, Cedric Chatman and Michael Westley are only a few of the recent victims–and it’s tempting to view this as a problem within the department at this particular period in time. However, added to pervasive killing from 1916 to the late 1960s, it becomes clear there is an institutional disregard of life and the rights of the police to kill within the department. With the weight of generations of abuse behind the killings, it is only surprising to me that protests in 2016 weren’t as violent as those in the 1960s.

Overall, not a bad book, but not the one I was expecting. Nonetheless, it still provided a solid meal of food for thought. Any book that can do that is above average.

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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