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Thursday
Sep152016

Book Review: Peace Road

Peace Road. Brad Spencer. ASKME Publishing, July 6, 2016, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 252 pages.

Reviewed by Ken Sawilchik.

Like the seminal Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, or a winsome episode of Seinfeld, Brad Spencer's second novel, Peace Road, features several seemingly unrelated stories running concurrently until they converge in a gripping X-Files style ending. The author sets the novel in an unseemly environment, chock-full of shady characters and evildoers, and he provides an insightful portrayal of the violence that plagues Chicago's gritty south side and charming outlying areas. 

The story includes a robust number of personas: gang members, police, victims, innocent bystanders (are they also victims?), and even a public defender at the center of it all. The novel outlines the gang landscape of Chicago neighborhoods, and all of the inhabitants are included. All ethnicities get equal billing.

Let me provide an inventory of the players. There is Lyndi Carnes, the sultry, hard-as-nails cop and don't-you-dare-call-her girlfriend of the introspective Public Defender Harry West, who is connected to viscous gang kingpin, Raymond Delgado. There is Delgado's crusader neighbor, Jebediah Hatch, and the police officer with something to hide, Dave Flisk. There are also a myriad of drug dealers, users, and losers on the periphery, and even some seriously dangerous hombre's from south of the border.

Not enough? Factor in some ghastly murders, double-crosses, troubled relationships, soul-searching, and red herrings, and you have more than enough to keep your mind churning and the pages turning at a blistering clip.

The gang members start dropping like middle management in a corporate layoff, and it is unclear who is responsible. However, unlike a faceless corporation, there are compelling personalities to provide clues to the identify of the culprit. There is an overwhelming array of options to consider. Is it a gang war, are the Mexican drug overlords responsible, or are the residents trying to take back their city? There is some rather cunning foreshadowing, but only the most gifted readers will have a chance at deciphering the clues Spencer leaves in his wake.

With so much jam-packed content, you'd think it might get confusing, but the individual chapters are succinct enough that the reader can easily keep them all straight. The story flows well throughout the journey.

Much of the story background comes right out of today's headlines, providing a sense of realism, but since the storylines are so familiar, the shocks fail to make the impact that they held in real life. As a Chicago area resident familiar with the locale, I have taken the Peace Road exit on the way to DeKalb countless times, which increased the familiarity of these events for me. Perhaps someone not so well versed in the subject matter details will find them just as jarring as the public did when first reported on the nightly news.

The insights into gang life, police work, and the plight of the residents keep the reader engaged throughout and fully absorbed in the story as it unravels. As the book builds to its final scenes, the character’s behaviors turn irrational and inconsistent with their earlier portrayals. The conclusion shifts from the realism depicted throughout, to something less authentic. Still, Spencer saturates the novel with enough action, intrigue, sex, and violence to make the time investment worthwhile. And, if you solve the unfolding mystery before Spencer reveals it, you should audition to be a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire

 

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