City for Ransom Review
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A killer is roaming the streets of Chicago. It’s 1893, and the city is hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America. The city is bustling with fairgoers, and everyone’s talking about the breath-taking view from Mr. Ferris’s exciting new wheel. But somewhere among them is a man who’s hunting down and killing his victims nearby—giving him the nickname the Phantom of the Fair.

Inspector Alastair Ransom investigates the gruesome crime scenes using the newest investigative procedures, but when the Phantom claims his third victim—a boy whose body is found burning in the train station—Chief Nathan Kohler sends in Dr. James Phineas Tewes, a phrenologist, to study the crime scene. Angered by the arrival of Tewes, a doctor whose background is as mysterious as his strange medical practices, Ransom finds that he now has more than one mystery to solve. He needs to find the killer—who seems to be taunting him with each murder, and whose methods bring back painful memories from Ransom’s past. Ransom also needs to figure out who the mysterious Tewes really is—and why Chief Kohler has placed him on the case. And as Ransom fights with his demons—and his Phantom—Tewes has to fight for acceptance while struggling to keep a secret of his own.

This first book in a new three-book series by suspense writer Robert W. Walker (see a review of Walker’s Absolute Instinct) paints a fascinating—and obviously carefully researched—picture of the Windy City in the days before the Sears Tower and the Magnificent Mile. In the beginning of the book, the background information seems to bog down the story a bit, however, and it takes a while to get to the real action. Sometimes it even feels a little too researched, and the lines of dialog that are meant to give readers even more historical background feel a bit awkward.

While the mystery itself is a chilling one, explained in gruesome detail, it actually serves another purpose—to help the author take his readers inside the mind (and the dark past) of his new main character. In fact, much of the novel seems to be a build-up for something much bigger. It creates the setting and the characters—along with plenty of tension—for the upcoming Ransom novels. Historical fiction fans will be captivated by City for Ransom—and you’ll find yourself wanting to find out what comes next for the Inspector.

Ed. Note: To get a signed bookplate for your copy of City for Ransom, see

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