On the Michigan State Fairgrounds, just inside the Detroit City limits, stands a 25 ft. likeness of a wood
burning kitchen stove from the Michigan Stove Company. This all-oak creation had been prominently displayed at
the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Iím sure that somewhere in my family archives thereís a photo of me
standing in front of it.
Robert W. Walkerís City of the Absent begins on the day that Chicagoís Columbian Exposition ends after
a six month run. The last day ends on a sad note as the mayor of Chicago is assassinated on his own front lawn.
While the media focuses on the cityís loss, nobody seems to be paying attention to the disappearance of several
indigents. Their misfortunes have no impact on society. But when an undercover Pinkerton agent, who gets a
little too close to these "unimportant" disappearances is murdered and disemboweled, Inspector Alistair Ransom
of the Chicago Police Department is assigned to investigate. Ransom is somewhat of a maverick in a police force
where corruption has a strong foothold. The inspectorís strong sense of right and wrong is what guides him
regardless of what the bureaucracy wants.
Ransom has, among his informants, a young homeless boy whoís learned very well how to survive on the streets.
When the boy comes to the inspector after being molested by a priest, Ransom becomes enraged and vows vengeance.
He has a diabolical scheme in mind and actually confronts the priest. In the melee that follows, the priest
suffers a serious injury inflicted by someone in the mob; someone other than Inspector Ransom. The crooked Chief
of Police sets out to hang Alistair Ransom for the crime. Meanwhile, poor street people continue to drop out of
sight, their bodies and organs being harvested for "medical research."
Ransomís lady-friend happens to be a doctor who disguises her gender in order to carry on a workable practice
in a prejudiced Chicago society. While the Inspector is busy trying to clear his name, she comes to the rescue
and helps track down the killers.
City of the Absent is an exciting book. Robert Walker never allows the action to slow down. The
chapters seem to be exactly the right length and the pace is about as perfect as Iíve ever seen. The research is
detailed and paints an accurate picture of Chicago as it prepares to move into the twentieth century. Itís a
magical time in our past when telephones were in their infancy and electricity was just beginning to creep
through the city. The story is as true to history as it is to the legacy of Inspector Alistair Ransom. I read a
lot of books but this one stands out as a masterpiece. This book has my strongest endorsement.