In A WOMAN TO BLAME by Vincent Panettiere, people die and criminal empires go to war all because one Russian woman in a tony Chicago townhouse decided to make fried smelts. That woman, Ivana, is married to Vadim, a member of an inchoate “bratva” that stretches from Lake Shore Drive to Uzbekistan. Ivana is frightened out of her wits when her neighbor, mobster Johnny Faraci, decides to complain about the smell of her smelts. Johnny gets so involved in his impromptu reprimand that he accidentally waves a pistol at Ivana. This is the reason why Vadim calls in a favor from his thuggish brother Gregori, and this decision in turn interferes with Johnny’s attempt to help the deadbeat gambler Professor Steve Gorman with his problem – a problem named Trujillo, a janitor-slash-bookie.
A WOMAN TO BLAME brilliantly interweaves all of these threads and churns out a well-written, crime-filled tapestry. The anchor of the novel is Detective Mike Hegan of the Chicago Police Department. Hegan is depicted as a lovable everyman, with a niece, a nephew, and a future wife and fellow officer named Lucy. It is Hegan who has to solve this mess of bookies, gangsters, and revenge-minded immigrants. The case takes him from windy Chicago to the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean. Panettiere gives both locations great atmosphere, with Chicago depicted as a nest of amoral vipers and the Caribbean portrayed as a sun-baked, open-air mortuary. If nothing else, A WOMAN TO BLAME puts poetry back into murder.
Panettiere’s writing is as funny as it is sharp. Each and every character in this novel has a purpose and a personality. Johnny Faraci has panache, while Hegan is gruff and the Russians run the gamut from comedic to stone-cold killers. Even better, these larger-than-life characters fit perfectly into this slapstick story. But, despite its humorous side, A WOMAN TO BLAME is a police procedural that does not shy away from bloodletting. All of the short, punchy chapters, almost all of which focuses on one of the story’s main characters, propel the action along and contain more than a few shootouts or at the very least nasty words.
Vincent Panettiere’s A WOMAN TO BLAME is an excellently written potboiler and detective novel featuring a tough-guy detective and a string of crimes with a most unusual origin.
~Benjamin Welton for IndieReader