Kelly McMullin is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, having served the final decade as a detective in the bomb squad. Relocating to Loda, in east central Illinois, he began his writing career to clear his mind of the many memories from police service. His teenage daughter suggested that he write fiction with a female police officer as his main character. Sam Kelly was created on the pages of McMullin’s first novel, Leaving Bones Behind, in November of 2016.
Not surprisingly, Sam Kelly is a former Chicago police detective. Wishing to escape the Chicago life, she takes a position as a detective in the fictional small Illinois community of Cherokee Falls. McMullin’s second novel, With Eyes Wide Open, appeared in August of 2017. In this installment, Kelly has acquired a husband (she is now Sam Brodie) and is chief of the department. She is also 32 weeks pregnant.
Cherokee Falls is a typical small town in Illinois. Like most fictional police departments, it is populated with quirky and endearing characters whose trials and tribulations move the story along with the appropriate amounts of humor mixed with some tragedy. Cherokee Falls must run its operation under the control of a mayor who views every event that occurs through the political prism of his small community. This trait seems to be prevalent in both fictional and non-fictional police departments of America.
It is not a surprise to devotees of the mystery genre that from the 19th century writings of Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins to the present-day works of Michael Connelly and the late Sue Grafton, the same basic plot guides the novel. The story usually opens with an introduction of the star detective. New characters often get a detailed introduction but, after multiple appearances in a series of mysteries, some characters need no further introduction. The story then moves to the scene of the crime. As the pages are turned and the crime is solved, readers are treated to narratives of the characters created by the author and the locale chosen to be the venue for the novel. It might be the English countryside, the streets of Los Angeles, the fictional city Isola created by Ed McBain or, as in McMullin’s case, the tiny hamlet of Cherokee Falls, located in west central Illinois. Anyone can commit a murder, just as anyone can solve it. What distinguishes the crime and the solution in a mystery novel is how the writer sets the scene and whether the character is entertaining.
Sam Kelly is that type of endearing character. Granted, no police department in America would allow her to work so late in her pregnancy as her department chief, but that is simply the willing suspension of disbelief often required in fiction. Throughout the pages of With Eyes Wide Open, Sam must balance her life as a mother and chief of police in ways that are portrayed with great insight by McMullin. By the end of the novel we have met a police officer we care about and whose further exploits will be interesting to follow. Readers can look forward to learning more about Chief Kelly and the denizens of Cherokee Falls, Illinois. It promises to be an interesting future.
Stuart Shiffman is a frequent contributor to the book section of Illinois Times.