I'd never heard of the author James Conan, but after reading the blurb for his novel "City of Dark Hearts" I was intrigued so decided to give it a go. Set in Chicago in the late 19th Century during the World Fair at a time of great glamour and wealth, this story takes a look at the dark side of the city in the hidden world of pornography and organised crime.
A young Lithuanian born New Yorker Anna Zemeckis is sent to Chicago by her father who is completely unaware of how dangerous a city Chicago is, and, due to unknown circumstances, Anna goes missing. When a body is found only identifiable by Anna's clothing, a heartfelt letter to the New York World (run by Joseph Pulitzer) by her father leaves rookie reporter Emily Strauss with only one week before the World Fair ends to find out what happened to Anna and girls that have disappeared like her.
Accompanied only by an illustrator Ben Latham, Emily has to navigate the dangerous streets of Chicago retracing Anna's steps which leads to the startling discovery that Anna is still alive, but, with some powerful enemies against her, for how much longer and can Emily reach her in time to save her?
The style of this book was very easy to read. It was quick flowing, which is always desirable for a thriller, and the dialogue was very fitting to the time period and also helped keep the flow of the story. This book was written in the third person which enabled many different viewpoints from the story to be portrayed, so as a reader you become aware of a lot of the facts, and thus the danger, before the characters do, and by only being a passive observer this just adds to the tension.
One thing I particularly liked about the way this novel was written was the detail Chicago was described in - the city was brought to life with the conflicting portrayal of the affluence displayed by the glitzy World Fair and thus the image Chicago wanted to portray to the rest of the world and the contrasting dark alleys and dangerous characters lurking on every corner.
The World Fair was never really mentioned in great detail but kept more as a backdrop to the story, and whilst this doesn't in anyway detract from the story it was just something I would liked to have had brought more to life for me, but this is just a personal preference.
This story also succeeds in creating a slightly macabre atmosphere as the true horrors of insane asylums and the gruesome experiments performed in them were uncovered which also adds to the terrible sense of danger and just how depraved society really could be back in those days.
This knowledge that danger was potentially everywhere helped keep the fast paced nature of this mystery thriller, and the fact the story was segmented into days and was kept to a very strict timeline also added to the effect that time was of the essence and very rapidly running out which produced a constant state of nervous excitement throughout the whole story.
The characterisation was excellent in this story - through thoughts and actions you quickly gain an affinity with both Anna and Emily - the most crucial characters of this story - and that makes the danger they are both in just that bit more unbearable. Likewise, the deplorable nature of the "bad guys" leaves you desperately wanting the "good guys" to succeed against all odds.
This novel is definitely a page-turner - as the mystery begins to deepen and the danger becomes increasingly more threatening you find yourself hurtling to the conclusion at break-neck speed and the drama that unfolds is certainly not disappointing.
I would thoroughly recommend this book as an excellent thriller, an intriguing mystery story and an accurate historical depiction - not so much the characters but the world created - so if you enjoy any or all of these things you will like this story.