By J.B. Stevens /
“Chicago is an October sort of city, even in spring.” — Nelson Algren
Chicago is a town on the edge of the American mind. It often feels as if it’s an also-ran. The city doesn’t get the hype of other places, but it should. Every (non-winter) visitor to the place raves about it. The history, geography, architecture, and close-knit neighborhoods create a unique vibe, and it is a ripe setting for fiction.
Into this milieu wades Cynthia Pelayo with Children of Chicago, recently released from Agora, a Polis Publishing imprint. ($26 Hardcover, 303 pages.) The novel is a modern-horror retelling of the Pied Piper fairytale as well as a love letter to the titular city.
Children of Chicago is the story of Lauren Medina, a detective in the Chicago Police department. Medina is trying to follow in the footsteps of her father, a department legend. Medina picks up a murder case in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Soon, similarities to a past tragedy start to show. Medina must decide whether or not to risk self-destruction in an effort to stop the killer. As she works through the case, things quickly take a turn for the worse. It is a character-driven and well-plotted page turner with a horror slant. The work contains a solid amount of Chicago history as well, which I enjoyed.
Pelayo’s experience as a poet shows in her prose:
Maybe this was the way to reunite with her, perhaps this was the way it always needed to be. Maybe the torture of the water rushing out of his throat would stop. Maye the feeling of ice and chill charging through his veins would fade, but it did not. The pain stung and pulsed and throbbed. It was as if he were out there again in the lagoon struggling, but this time fighting to come up, to break through the surface. He found himself sinking. Falling below, his feet touching the bottom of the lagoon. And then he opened his mouth to scream but only more water rushed in.
The author has worked as a journalist. She lyrically paints tight and taut scenes on demand:
A movement drew their eyes upward. Blue and red lights swept across the tops of trees. A horn blared. The police cruiser stopped right in front of them. Fin released his hand with such force he thought she was going to push him next. She was angry, and at that moment he saw something sinister in her face that unsettled him.
In the work, the author mixes a fast-paced detective story with outstanding description and fairy-tale horror. The dialogue is strong. The story is dark but enjoyable, and keeps the reader entertained. The “damaged big-city police detective” is a VERY hard character to pull off in an original way, but Pelayo succeeds. Medina, and the narrative, are unique and memorable. As a reader, I cared about Medina.
Children of Chicago is a solid, fun, fast entry into the genre. It is worth your time and money. I recommend this novel.
J.B. Stevens lives in the Southeastern United States. His poetry chapbook All the Violent Memories is being released in March 2021, his short story collection A Therapeutic Death is being released in October 2021–both from Close to The Bone Publishing.
He can be found online at twitter.com/IamJBStevens and jb-stevens.com.