A murder mystery set in the Quad Cities
Rock Island Lines, by Dean Klinkenberg. Published by Travel Passages, 2014. 258 pages.
Reading mystery novels on a regular basis brings to mind the observation that “it’s not the wand that pulls the rabbit out of the hat, it’s the magic of the magician.” After all, there are only so many ways to murder a victim and perhaps fewer ways to solve the commission of the crime. But mystery novels are a popular genre because they allow skilled writers to create iconic characters in unique locations. They transport readers around the world and introduce them to characters whose personal lives can be more of a mystery than the crime they are called upon to solve.
Dean Klinkenberg is a Midwesterner presently living in St. Louis. After finishing high school in southern Minnesota he went to college in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He has spent his life discovering the joys of traveling the Mississippi River while living in towns along its banks. Klinkenberg began exploring the Mississippi and its environs in 2007. He has traveled from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico with multiple stops along the way. He has written three books: the Quad Cities Travel Guide, the Lansing and Le Claire Guide, and the Driftless Area Guide. Along the way he has logged more than 120,000 miles driving the Great River Road and spent time on large riverboats as well as tiny canoes. One should not be surprised that Frank Dodge, the central character in this initial mystery novel, is a writer.
Rock Island Lines has at its foundation a real-life Quad Cities historical figure, John Looney. The fictional Frank Dodge has come to the area to research some aspects of Looney’s life. Klinkenberg deftly weaves many of those historical facts into the mystery. Looney was an erstwhile attorney in the early 20th century who built a national crime syndicate in Illinois. In 1926, he began an eight-year prison sentence and upon release moved to south Texas. He died there as a lonely figure in 1942.
Frank Dodge learns that one of Looney’s descendants may be living in the Quad Cities area. He travels to the area to locate Miguel Ramirez, who Dodge hopes will be the subject of a story. They meet in the Quad Cities and Ramirez and Dodge spend an evening visiting some Quad Cities locales. The next morning Ramirez is found dead in the Mississippi River. The police suspect that Dodge is involved in the murder and, as often occurs in the mystery novel world, Dodge must solve the crime in order to exonerate himself.
Rock Island Lines is a traditional gritty mystery. Although set in modern times it is somewhat reminiscent of the style of the 1940s, with characters who would seem more at home with Sam Spade than modern crime-solvers. There is no modern gadgetry save for some occasional computer work, and also very little gun violence or car chases. In the end, Dean Klinkenberg gives us a mystery much like his beloved Mississippi – it meanders through a large area and hits quite a few basic themes. For a first mystery novel, it shows promise. The second novel, Double Dealing in Dubuque is scheduled for release next year.
Stuart Shiffman is a frequent contributor to the book section of Illinois Times.