Thursday, January 11, 2007

Down But Not Out

Theresa Schwegel has a new hardcover out -- Probable Cause -- and the paperback version of her Edgar-winning first novel, Officer Down.

Schwegel's impressive first mystery about a cop named Samantha Mack – Smack to her colleagues – catches the flavor of Chicago in endearing ways. “It’s low-key, unadvertised, and out of the way, and it’s been around for too long to be trendy,” she says of her favorite late-night eating place, Iggy’s on Milwaukee Avenue. “I’ve never had a better steak after 10 p.m.”

Waiting for her date – a homicide detective named Mason Imes – to show up and buy her that steak, Smack gets an urgent call from her boss at the 23rd to fill in for another colleague with the flu. She joins her ex-boyfriend Fred as they go after a pervert, and many shots are fired. Smack gets hit hard on the head, and Fred winds up dead – killed by Smack’s .38. Was it an accident, as the police department badly wants to label it? Or was there really someone else in the room, who the battered and concussed Smack is virtually certain did the killing?

Of course there was, and it soon becomes evident – perhaps a bit too evident – that Smack will have to do all the digging herself. Between the slickly dismissive (and married) Imes, a particularly pesky bird from Internal Affairs, and a police establishment which threatens to take her badge if she doesn’t behave, Smack has no real friends.

But Schwegel, who writes about police work with authority (“It’s like hide-and-seek and my .38 is a heavy toy,” she has Smack think as a bust develops) has also created a tough and original character. At 32, Smack is as honest as they come, especially about herself. “My hair looks like it’s been pulled back all day (it has) and my makeup looks like a second coat rather than a fresh one (it is). Good thing we’re going to Iggy’s; at times like these, I live for bad lighting.”