“This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” There are plenty of good lines in ex-Star writer Dick Cady’s new book, but the standard publisher’s disclaimer may be the best. The Executioner’s Mask is a chronicle of our fair city through the lens of a mystery, and few persons or institutions (living or dead) are left untouched.
Cady knows his beat and it shows.
Sonny Ritter, an attorney with the unfortunate blemish of cocaine possession on his resume, is tasked with a tough case. He has to try to avert the death penalty for a man caught on tape killing a cop. It’s the story of one man’s dignity in the face of bureaucratic complacency and indifference. It’s a story that Cady himself knows well.
The thrill of seeing your own city as the setting for a legal spellbinder never quite wears off (and one starts to understand why New York’s artists pat their city on its back with such frequency). And the book isn’t just satisfying as a repository for parochial name-dropping. It’s flat-out good, a solid mystery with plenty of twists.
Despite his troubled past, Sonny is at heart a sweet character. It’s not hard to care for him when his life and occupation are threatened. But Sonny isn’t the most interesting character in The Executioner’s Mask. That honor goes to Cady’s autobiographical Leland Hurt, a wizened ex-reporter from the book’s Chronicle daily who grudgingly comes to help Sonny in his quest.
At one point, Hurt claims, “I think I won an award” for a project exposing police corruption. Cady is being modest. He won a 1975 Pulitzer Prize for being a member of an investigative team that exposed a massive police scandal. His efforts wound up getting the county prosecutor thrown out by the voters.
This is where the book really makes you think. Cady still sees Indianapolis as a city with a seamy underside of corruption. It can be hard to believe this in 2004, at a time when everything appears to have been corporatized and sanitized, and every politician has a perfect sound-bite excuse for every misdeed.
Cady’s book is a portal into an Indianapolis that still exists. It’s not just the Midwestern mid-sized market that the ad execs on the coasts see. It’s a living, breathing community that needs to be vigilantly guarded by people with a sense of honor and a love for the place they call home.
Gannett has a habit of buying up papers with a few Pulitzers hanging on the walls. When Gannett came to town, Cady left The Star, along with a host of talented, veteran reporters. No Pulitzers have followed.
Dick Cady will be signing copies of The Executioner’s Mask on June 12 from 1-3 p.m. at The Mystery Company, 1323 S. Range Line Road, Carmel; 705-9711.