It's time the western bend at the bottom of Lake Michigan, that place where Indiana and South Chicago blur, better known as "da Region," inspired a contemporary literature of its own. First-time novelist Charlie Newton's gruesome blend of hard-boiled noir and horror about a female cop's frantic search for the son she's never known, Calumet City
, might be the place to start. Newton opens with a double-barreled shootout in a South Side gang hideout, puts the mayhem accelerator to the floor and doesn't let up for almost 400 pages. His plotting, involving Chicago mayoral politics, the sexual perversions of fundamentalist power-trippers and one woman's need to bury her past by blasting the hell out of it, is way over the top. He's at his best when dissecting the socio-cultural shades distinguishing Chicagoland's North and South divide. But Newton's biggest gamble is assuming the battle-scarred voice of his protagonist. If you think this is an act of great imagination and empathy, you'll be cheering a major talent; otherwise you'll wonder whether you've picked up a page-turner or a meat-grinder.