City of the Absent

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Chicago's magnificent White City will soon be fading into memory. As the grand Exposition of 1893 reaches its final day, the metropolis is rocked by the public assassination of its popular mayor. In the chaos that ensues, another murder—the savage slaughter of a Pinkerton agent posing as a prostitute in a seedy slum alleyway—goes virtually unnoticed . . . except by police inspector Alastair Ransom.

An avenging angel haunted by the ghosts and mistakes of his past, Ransom called ...

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Chicago's magnificent White City will soon be fading into memory. As the grand Exposition of 1893 reaches its final day, the metropolis is rocked by the public assassination of its popular mayor. In the chaos that ensues, another murder—the savage slaughter of a Pinkerton agent posing as a prostitute in a seedy slum alleyway—goes virtually unnoticed . . . except by police inspector Alastair Ransom.

An avenging angel haunted by the ghosts and mistakes of his past, Ransom called the slain detective, Nell Hartigan, "friend"—and his unorthodox inquiries into her murder are pointing him toward a fiend who's targeting the city's most unremarkable and disposable citizens. But in a great urban slaughterhouse, where foul corruption festers in every dark corner, Ransom will find himself accused of the one crime he did not commit . . . and facing the final judgment of the hangman's noose.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Inspector Alastair Ransom's time at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair is tarnished when the mayor and his Pinkerton colleague are murdered in the third series title. Walker lives in West Virginia.

As reviewer Michele Leber pointed out in last year's roundup "Nordic Crime" (Mystery, LJ4/1/06, p. 70), U.S. publishers have tapped into a rich mother lode of compelling crime fiction from Scandinavia. Now come three offerings from the lands of the midnight sun. Strangely, all of them are set during the winter holidays, which puts the "blue" back into "Blue Christmas."-Ed.

—David Doerrer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060740122
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/27/2007
  • Series: Inspector Alastair Ransom Mysteries Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert W. Walker, a graduate of Northwestern University, is the author of thirty-six novels, including the acclaimed PSI Blue featuring FBI Psychic Rae Hiyakawa, the Instinct Series with FBI Medical Examiner Dr. Jessica Coran, and the Edge Series featuring Texas Cherokee Detective Lucas Stonecoat and psychiatrist Meredyth Sanger. He has also recently published the serialized thriller set in India entitled Fleshwar on\shorts. Robert was born in Corinth, Mississippi; grew up in Chicago, Illinois; and currently resides in Chicago and Charleston, West Virginia. In between teaching, lecturing, and book touring, Rob is busy tackling his next two novels, City of the Absent and Deja Blue.

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Read an Excerpt

City of the Absent

Chapter One

October 28, 1893, Chicago, Illinois, on the last night of the World's Fair

Mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison, a politician who split families and lovers over the issues of the day, a man both beloved and despised, lay dying of an assassin's bullet. The murderer's three consecutive shots left Harrison writhing in agony on his own Ashland Avenue lawn. His last thoughts for his family faded in and out with his pride in Chicago on this special night, as it had been a night of celebration. Harrison had presided over the closing ceremonies of the Great Chicago World's Fair.

Across the city, Inspector Alastair Ransom and Dr. Jane Francis Tewes lay curled in one another's arms. Alastair, sleepless, contemplated Jane's outward ladylike appearance and demeanor, her inner beauty, her caring, giving nature, and her magical lovemaking.

Jane also lay awake, contemplating and fearing that she might love this man, fearing what her own heart kept telling her...that it wanted him. That it wanted whatever Ransom wanted.

She'd even said so; out loud, she feared. She now whispered, "World be damned if things aren't right between us, Alastair."

"What?" he'd sleepily replied.

"No matter, I will do whatever you ask . . . "

He liked the sound and beat and counterpoint she'd found.

" . . . Alastair . . . whatever you ask me to . . . "

"Jane, you needn't make promises that..."

" . . . even if you finally ask me . . . in the end . . . to leave . . . "

"Jane, you must not..."

"I must do what you ask me to."

He was unsure where that had come from; likely some deep wellspring of desirewithin her? Something in her deepest recesses? A need to wholly, completely give herself over to someone she believed in? In a love she might trust above all things...or rather, dreamed of in childhood along with castles and fairy-tale worlds? Else she was truly in love with him on a level he had no prior experience with, save in his own imaginings with Polly Pete before her death.

But how was he to take this? Coming from Jane? An emotional rock up till now. How to play it?

Their lovemaking had been extreme and pleasurable, lights going off inside his head like those in the sky over Chicago's Lake Michigan on this, the last night of the World's Fair commemorating Columbus and worldwide progress since Columbus. Isn't that enough in and of itself, he silently asked, furled in her arms, her heart beating against his. Pleasurable beyond measure, in fact . . . it'd been remarkably pleasurable; he'd thought such spiritual elation impossible in any physical bonding, yet both the hardened detective and the seasoned lady surgeon had transcended this ground, this room, this city, and this plane.

Still, perhaps that was not enough for Jane, and perhaps she wanted more of him...far more of him. Perhaps she wanted him to repeat her words. Words she'd spoken to entice words from him? To join her as in a mantra...a chant they should together adopt when addressing one another, and next she'd convince him that the two should marry, and God forbid, have children at his age. These rampant thoughts flitted through his mind along with an even more terrifying idea...his loss of freedom. Just as marriage to her must end the career of one Dr. James Phineas Tewes...her other self... it could end the career of one Inspector Alastair Ransom, should she, as a wife, demand he take a safer, cushier job, say that of a store clerk or haberdasher.

It'd never work. Besides, given his proclivities, his lifestyle, his set ways, he'd be doing her no favor whatsoever tying the knot; in fact, it'd be like tying her to a raging bull. This, in his mind, must be the end of it.

Bells began to toll all across Ransom's city and outside Jane's window. Then came the thundering of horses pulling police wagons. Aside from the fracas, something deep within, in the nature of self-preservation, roused Alastair from Jane's caress. The admixture of tumultuous questions and passions assailing Ransom with the staccato alarms created a strange wave of panic. A panic rivaling his most lovely moment; he just knew something awful had happened.

"Is it a fire?" Jane asked.

"Dunno. Could be." A fire on the final night of the fair, he thought. This could be disastrous.

The bells and whistles sounded like a wailing, wounded animal. Again Alastair felt shaken by whatever it might be that'd occurred outside his inner storm...the eruption of passion ending in confusion. From what he could tell from the limited perspective of Jane's window on Belmont, the disturbance must be uptown. Somewhere near the fair, perhaps along Michigan Avenue. The two locations police in Chicago were sworn to protect above all else.

Ransom continued to peek out through lace curtains, his action sending a shaft of diffused gaslight into the room and over the bed, where Jane's reclining figure became silhouettelike, even fairylike.

"Damn . . . this can't be good," he commented, ignoring her unconscious call for him to return to her bed. "I'd best go have a look."

Jane climbed from her own wakeful dream, joined him at the window and wrapped her arms about Alastair, hardly capable of the reach. She was dwarfed beside him. "Whatever the problem, they may need my medical assistance, too," she groggily muttered.

"Yours or Dr. Tewes's?" He turned as he said this, his eyes accusing. He'd long argued for an end to her dressing as a male doctor in order to attract patients to her clinic...or rather, the clinic below the shingle reading: Dr. James Phineas Tewes.

Jane squeezed him to her. "This is no time for old arguments, Alastair."

"When the devil're you going to respect me on this? Give up this masquerade, Jane, please! It's seriously troubling, this . . . this situation, more so now than ever."

City of the Absent. Copyright © by Robert Walker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2008

    Murder and mayhem in 1893 Chicago

    This story starts during the closing day of the Worlds Fair in 1893 Chicago. We must remember that in that time of history things were much different. There were no modern conveniences that we take for granted today. But, there was much crime in many sections of the city that kept Police Inspector Alastair Ransom, as well as the rest of the Chicago police force quite busy. Things really heated up when the mayor of Chicago was killed on the day the fair closed. It even interrupted Inspector Ransom¿s lovemaking with Dr. Jane Francis Tewes, the love of his life, when he was called immediately to the scene of the crime. In those days no one respected or wanted a female physician to care for them. Women were fine for nursing but not for patient care and diagnosis. As a result, Dr. Tewes had to masquerade as a male with appearance and clothing as well as changing her voice when she appeared anywhere in public in an emergency situation, such as the mayor¿s killing. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was very evident in the time of this story. They worked for the police at times as well as many corporations and well-to-do individuals. They were generally well respected so when an undercover female Pinkerton Agent, who was posing as a prostitute, was found murdered, the Chicago Police took interest. Especially Detective Ransom since he thought very close to this woman and wanted to get her killer. After seeing her body torn open and all her internal organs cut out, Pinkerton and all the police wanted this killer badly. Upon investigation they found others have been missing from the streets, mostly those that wouldn¿t be missed by anyone because they were derelicts, bums, or homeless people. The female Pinkerton agent was the first well-known person that had been found but her discovery had opened up a ¿can of worms¿ to investigate and find who was performing these foul deeds. Ransom did not get along well with his superiors and they loved to accuse him for many things he might or might not have done. He was a very experienced cop and knew the ropes and how to have things appear as they might not be. He was very instrumental in the search for these killer/killers despite butting heads with superiors. He had his list of suspects that didn¿t always correspond with his bosses but he plowed onward in his investigation. He intermingled with Dr. Tewes, both the male and female version of her/him, and their love became an integral part of the story, as did Dr. Tewes daughter, Gabriel. As you read this book it makes you think of what we have today compared to the rather primitive ways things were done in those times. One thing that was really different was having to get around in their taxis. Taxies were horse-drawn carriages, far different from our transportation modes today. They had to use that mode of transportation, as there were no cars or trucks. The police and fire departments rolled to a scene in their horse-drawn carriages too. Reading takes you back to those days and gives you a feel of those days over one hundred years ago. The story was very good. Plots were well thought out and carried through the entire book. The characters were just that¿characters¿that would say or do most anything. Robert W. Walker¿s story brings out the history and events of that time in history and even tells us about many of the exhibits and events that occurred during that 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair. A very enjoyable story with surprises galore.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

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    A reviewer

    The night brings an end to the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and with its closing two murders occurs separated by miles and class. Mayor Carter Harrison who thought he was invincible and had an open door policy even at his home was killed there. Across town Vanderfn and Philander Rolsky are seeking a nonentity that no one will miss. They set their sights on a grandmotherly looking prostitute to harvest her organs for use at a medical college.--------- However, this time the brothers picked the wrong person because the victim was a Pinkerton Agent Nell Harrington in disguise and on the trail of a doctor who buys corpses and organs. Police Inspector Alastair Ransom was Nell¿s friend and he obsesses with finding her killer, but he also has enemies in high places like Police Chief Kohler. The Chief collaborates with a senator who hired Pinkerton to find evidence to lock Alastair up as a felon. Alastair knows the police chief and the senator are murderers, but lacks evidence to convict them. He does not make life easier for himself when he goes to castrate a priest defiling children, but was too late as someone took care of the ungodly father. Alistair¿s boss plans to nail him for the crime.-------- Robert W. Walker is a master at evoking atmosphere in this case the gaslight era that enables fiends and lunatics to hide in its shadows. Alastair uses the services of a homeless child as a snitch just like Holmes used the Baker Street Irregulars. In fact the protagonist reminds readers of Holmes as he laconically refuses to give up on a case in which the political and police brass of Chicago are corrupt and willing to hang this dedicated cop instead of seeing justice served.------------ Harriet Klausner

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