Out of Cabrini is a crackerjack police novel that rises above its genre with a subtly nuanced and very human story of crime and punishment from the perspective of cops, victims and criminals on the rough streets of Chicago.

First-time author Dave Case, a longtime veteran of the city’s police department, displays deft skill, rare in a debut novel, as he recounts a chain of often violent events that take place after Lonnie Huggins — a stone-cold enforcer for the Mickey Cobras gang with eyes like “death whacked-out on crack” — is released from prison.

Huggins isn’t on the streets very long before he’s arrested in his silver BMW with two guns, a violation of his brand-new status as an ex-con.

The arrest is made by Stacey Macbeth and other members of the tactical team for Chicago’s 18th police district. That’s the North Side district that serves an area including the Gold Coast with its hyper-wealthy inhabitants and the Cabrini-Green public housing development with its hyper-poor residents, including the not-so-poor, super-violent Cobras.

Four kilos

Although the tac team members put Huggins back behind bars (at least for the moment), they don’t realize what is hidden in the car — four kilos of Lonnie’s cocaine.

From jail, Huggins orders a young gangbanger named Antwan Simms, nicknamed Boo, to get the fancy car back — a tall order since it’s in a police pound.  That’s the bad news. 

The good news is that it’s about to be auctioned. So, Boo who spends much of his time nervously chewing on his thumbnail taps three other even younger gang members, and the foursome head to the auction to buy the car.

Except that the plan goes awry in a very Chicago way. 

Robert Starr, Jr., the heir of a grocery store chain, gets the car before it officially goes on sale by paying top dollar — and a bribe put into the right hands. Starr, ignorant of the car’s ownership history, knows only that it’s a fine car in fine shape and will make a sweet present for his fine mistress Rachel Westing.

Crimes and efforts to solve crimes

Case’s story unfolds from there and involves the gruesome murder of a police informer, an over-curious security guard who is kidnapped and shot over and over again near a railroad embankment, the discovery of the frozen body of a shooting victim in a huge pile of snow along the side of the Dan Ryan Expressway and a car-jacking just off the Eisenhower Expressway — as well as the efforts of Macbeth and the other 18th district tac guys and police investigators around the city to solve these and other crimes.

One of the great strengths of Out of Cabrini is Case’s ability to see his characters, no matter their position in relation to law and order, as people with feelings and preoccupations.

For instance, Latricia Gibbons is the girlfriend of Huggins who, after getting out of prison, enjoys beating her as he did before he went in:

She could hardly hear for the ringing in her ears, but she knew what she had seen, the black handle of a gun in his waistband.  And she knew he’d hidden two in her closet before the went off to jail.  She’d found them just a couple months ago.  Looking for some damn shoes she’d thought she saved.  Didn’t find the shoes but she’d found those damn guns.

Dedrick Dease is one of Boo’s sidekick-soldiers, new to Cabrini from the South Side, and he’s glad to be doing the bidding of Huggins as a way to garner attention within the gang.  After getting one job done, Dease is driving through the winter streets, keeping his speed down even though “his heart wanted to jump out of his chest.  Tonight was the night his reputation would begin.”

“’Ey! At’s I ‘ar!”

Out of Cabrini opens with a comic scene of Macbeth and his partner Mike Zito landing, after a night of carousing, in a storefront parlor to have their tongues pierced.  Zito’s is carried out to the great hilarity of Macbeth:

The look on his partner’s face made him laugh again.  Some of his color had returned, but when he talked it looked like his cheeks were puffed out too far, maybe to protect his tongue or something like that.

But, when it’s Macbeth’s turn, the piercing is interrupted by a report of someone outside breaking into a car — their car!  And Zito yells:

“’Ey! At’s I ‘ar!”

A police procedural that stays true

Out of Cabrini, published in 2006, is identified on its cover as “A Macbeth Novel,” and the dustjacket notes that Case has others planned.  So far, though, no second one has appeared.

That’s too bad because Case has created an interesting world — or, better, recreated the interesting world in which he’s lived as a Chicago cop.

Macbeth is the central character, but he doesn’t dominate the book.  In fact, I’d argue that Macbeth is secondary as a character to the police force — the men and women who are trying hard to do the right thing to lock up criminals and protect the innocent.  It’s the police — the “poh-leece” in the language of the street — who are the heroes of Case’s novel.

I used to cover the Chicago police at the beginning of my newspaper reporting career, and the way Case describes the cops and their methods rings true for me.  Out of Cabrini is not one of those novels that plays fast and loose with the real-life situations of cops.  This is a police procedural that really stays true to the actual procedures of Chicago police.

“No intention of writing a report”

And it stays true to the reality that not every cop is a hero.  One tactical sergeant is known as High Yellow, a reference to his light African-American skin color but even more a reference to his tendency to absent himself from any work, especially any work involving a touch of danger.

And then there’s Ray Dietz, a lazy officer for whom Case has nothing but disdain:

His police coat was open, exposing a tie that was six inches too short and stained with who knew how many meals.  He was sweating, even though it was cold outside.  His holster, looking more abused than his tie, was about to dump his gun on her porch…

He had no intention of writing a [missing persons] report, if he could help it.  Particularly since it was almost time to go home….Let hem prima donna [tac team] motherfuckers make the report.

Work, happenstance and hard work

Out of Cabrini isn’t one of those crime novels in which the preternaturally smart cop or detective solves the mystery with cleverness and straight shooting.

Instead, it shows police work as (a) work, (b) teamwork, (c) persistence, (d) happenstance and (e) hard work.

Even as Macbeth and the other police follow leads and make a connection here and there, they really don’t have a full picture of what’s gone on and who they are about to face when they creep up on an abandoned South Side building.

Neither, by the same token, do Boo and his gangbangers know what’s about to go down.

Both sides have been maneuvering around each other in the dark, sort of like Matthew Arnold’s ignorant armies clashing by night. 

And, if that seems like too high-falutin’ an allusion to make in discussing a police novel, well, I think Out of Cabrini deserves it.

And, I’d guess, Case would be pleased.  After all, he did name his guy Macbeth.

Patrick T. Reardon


Written by : Patrick T. Reardon

For more than three decades Patrick T. Reardon was an urban affairs writer, a feature writer, a columnist, and an editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 2000 he was one of a team of 50 staff members who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Now a freelance writer and poet, he has contributed chapters to several books and is the author of Faith Stripped to Its Essence. His website is https://patricktreardon.com/.

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