University of Chicago Magazine's Reviews > West of Western

West of Western by Eileen Robertson Hamer
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Feb 29, 2012

bookshelves: humanities-division

Eileen Hamer, PhD'92

After ten years in the Middle East, ex-Marine and Darkpool agent Seraphy Pelligrini doesn’t scare easily. So when she’s wounded by an IED and sent home to Chicago to begin a new life as an architect, she’s not concerned the home she chooses lies in a marginal neighborhood west of Western Avenue.

Gangbangers toss bricks through her windows; she orders bulletproof windows. They paint death threats on her garage door; she installs video cameras. The Lobos stalk her; she eludes them. She makes a new friend in a filthy bodega, takes it in stride when she’s accosted by the mysterious Mischa in Humboldt Park and a Marxist ex-nun in the alley, finds common ground with Gang Squad detectives Markowicz and Terreno. But when a Duques gang member is shot on her doorstep and the police write it off as a gang shooting, Seraphy’s experience tells her otherwise. She knows a professional execution when she sees one—this is not a gang shooting. It’s the work of a pro. Still, she’s an architect now. She leaves the investigation to the police.

Until, that is, foul-mouthed Sister Ann coerces her into helping nurse Maria, a pregnant teenage runaway dying of AIDS in a dingy back bedroom, and discovers Tito, the man shot on Seraphy’s doorstep, had raped and abandoned Maria. Maria’s half-brother Mario admits he was searching for Tito to kill him but claims someone else got there first.
When three Lobos gang members attack Seraphy, she disarms the leader, slicing his knife hand to the bone. Later that night the three are found shot. Detectives Markowicz and Terreno question Seraphy, but it seems clear to them that the three Lobos were shot by Mario’s Duques gang in revenge for Tito’s murder. It’s the beginning, they say—this will end in a bloodbath.

Seraphy can no longer stand aside. An outsider in a neighborhood of strangers, she struggles to find the killer as Duques and Lobos prepare for battle.
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