Anni Koskinen resigned from the Chicago police department after testifying against a fellow-officer for beating an unarmed youth. Although she feels she did the right thing in telling the truth, her colleagues fail to provide back-up when she’s called out, so she decides the risks to her safety aren’t worth it. At loose ends, Anni spends her time renovating her house and working when she can as a private investigator. The action begins when the local priest calls Anni and asks her to help a parishioner and volunteer helper, Rosa Saenz. When Rosa turns up at Anni’s door, she asks for a lift to Minnesota. Anni agrees, but before they get very far, disaster strikes.
It turns out that Rosa is suspected of shooting and killing Arne Tilquist, a senior FBI investigator, back in the late 1960s. At that time, Tilquist was head of a unit which monitored activist groups, of which there were many, mainly anti-Vietnam war, but also supporting plenty of other ‘radical’ and fringe causes. One of these groups was an extremist breakaway movement fighting for the rights of Native Americans. In one disastrous raid led by Tilquist, all the members of this group were killed except one. When Tilquist himself was found shot to death a little later, this activist became the prime suspect but was never found.
Forty years later, in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, the patriot act is once again threatening civil liberties on a similar scale. Anni is hired by a radical lawyer who specialises in Native American issues and who is convinced of Rosa’s innocence, to dig into the old case to find out who was really responsible for the Tilquist shooting. Most of the book from this point is taken up with Anni’s quest, which she has to carry out amid threats and escalating harassment from the FBI, and with little support from the police, apart from one apparently nice cop who seems very taken with her.
In the Wind is a fascinating novel: it reminded me of reading fiction about teenage rebellions many years ago, in particular the excellent Vida, by Marge Piercy. The crime plot is very well constructed and the environs of the poorer areas of Chicago, where Anni lives, and the characters who live there, are very well done. The political and personal heart of the novel is committed and passionate. Less successful, I think, is Anni’s back story, which is exceedingly convoluted and takes most of the first 150 pages of the book to tell. Anni’s personal history and life is interwoven with the case in many ways, but I felt that these could have been conveyed more succinctly to improve the pace of the first chunk of the book. For sure, though, Anni is a fascinating and well-developed character, whose life, family and friends contain plenty of rich fodder for future outings. In the Wind is a very good read indeed: if you enjoy series such as Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, or Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, you will certainly find a great deal to like in Anni Koskinen, who can more than hold her own in this company.