It’s a tough time for Chicago police detective Harriet Foster, the heroine of Tracy Clark’s just-released “Hide.” Her partner’s unexpected suicide leaves Harriet alone with her grief, not just this new grief, but the perpetual grief over her own son’s death. Her partner and best friend, Detective Glynnis Thompson, filled empty voids, at work and off the job. Now what?
For starters, Harriet must get through every day, second-by-second, and she must do this as she returns from a two-month leave, starting fresh with a new partner and a new unit. Though Foster has earned veteran status on the force, she needs to prove all over her merit and loyalty. And her new partner, Jim Lonergan, is a well-documented asshole, the kind of racist, misogynist buffoon who gives other cops a bad name, especially those paired to his every action.
Harriet’s official mourning period ends in concert with a murder near Chicago’s well-heeled Riverwalk. A DePaul University student’s body is found near the underpass leading to the DuSable Bridge. This crime, unlike others in neighborhoods not so white or rich, will be noticed. It will cause fear, anger and resentment. Pressure will come from inside and outside her new precinct.
As mysteries go, this one plays to form. The obvious suspect—a blacked-out, blood-stained Black man found near the body—seems wrong to Harriet, though it would be simpler if he was right. The asshole partner, of course, assumes the Black kid did it. The pressure to close the case adds layers of difficulty—internal politics but also the inevitable clashes between Harriet, a progressive Black woman, and her new partner, an “Old School” white man. With no murder weapon, no phone, no DNA—no nothing, except some red lipstick rings drawn on the victim—the motive of this death is anybody’s guess. Forget about identifying the killer. To Harriet, this looks like something other than a mugging gone wrong. On closer inspection, it looks similar to unsolved murders from the cold case files. It looks like a sick, psycho killer, the kind that needs victims like the rest of us need air. If she is right, then this latest victim is unlikely to be the last.
Author Clark is not content, though, to let this novel play to type. The craftsmanship, especially in plotting and character studies, is superb, but what makes this story compelling is the undercurrent of tension that informs Harriet’s return to duty, to a life absent her precious son and now her beloved partner. Through every procedural step and misstep, Harriet’s internal drama builds in complexity. The age-old question being posed is, “How do we go on?” For Harriet, it’s partly a call to serve a greater good but also the distraction of a difficult puzzle. Finding this monster, whomever he might be, entails careful study, deep digging, some luck, and a lot of intense focus. It requires skill as well. We see this in the interview techniques Harriet employs, her clever research methods, her ability to follow a thread, and in the chemistry she consciously develops between herself and her colleagues. Lonergan’s penchant to flummox the case must be worked around—alternately through delicacy and muscle. When Harriet’s female colleague, Vera Li, supplants Lonergan as her primary collaborator, the two must learn how their strengths and weaknesses might be employed to maximum results.
All of this adds depth and intrigue to the search for truth and justice. The cast of potential criminals grows and shrinks as the detectives unearth quality clues. The trail leads, thanks to discredited psychotherapist Dr. Marian Silva, to a convicted stalker. Silva fingers her patient, Bodie, as the potential serial killer, a move calculated as much to help her climb back into relevancy, maybe even stardom, as it is to take a dangerous man off the streets. Bodie, fresh off a monthlong stint at a psychiatric hospital, prowls the late-night Chicago streets as he wrestles with barely disguised anguish. He looks like the poster boy for “unbalanced.” His twin sister Amelia, a gifted and accomplished artist working on her masterpiece, is also a prowler with a deep well of secrets. She appears to define “well-adjusted.” But Bodie and Amelia experienced the same childhood trauma, in the same house, with the same cruel father. The whole family, starting with the long-gone (or maybe not) father, bubbles with secrets, including their identities. Somewhere in the deep currents of savage family history lies the answer to this novel’s riddle.
“Hide” is Clark’s fifth novel. Her first four featured cop-turned-private investigator Cassandra Raines. With Harriet Foster, Clark has introduced a second complex and nuanced heroine on which to build another worthwhile mystery series.
By Tracy Clark
Thomas & Mercer, 384 pages, $16.99
Donald G. Evans is the author of a novel and story collection, as well as the editor of two anthologies of Chicago literature, most recently “Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry.” He is the Founding Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.