Charlie Newton’s second novel, Start Shooting, is a story of childhood sweethearts, who after twenty-nine years apart, reunite in a labyrinth of intrigues in modern-day Chicago. Bobby Vargas, the good cop in the novel and his actress girlfriend, Arleen Brennan, fend off bad cops, most prominently Bobby’s brother Ruben, Mexican gangbangers, a rogue CIA agent, Japanese viral terrorists and a psycho Vietnamese orphan who are out to get them.
Bobby, a son of Mexican immigrants, and Arleen, the daughter of Irish immigrants, grew up in the tough neighborhood of Four Corners, around Eighteenth and Laflin. Arleen had a twin sister, Colleen, who was brutally raped and murdered when she was thirteen. A young black gangbanger was convicted of the crime and executed. Twenty-nine years later a newspaper reporter decides to reinvestigate the case and Bobby Vargas’ name surfaces as a prime suspect. A spate of current sexual abuse charges are suddenly filed against Bobby, who for seventeen years on the force had nothing but exemplary behavior.
Arleen, returning to Chicago from Los Angeles where she tried an acting career, suddenly gets a chance to audition as Blanche DuBois in a major Chicago production of A Streetcar Named Desire. This looms as her big chance of stardom. The audition is arranged through Bobby’s brother Ruben who asks her to do a few favors that put both her and Bobby in harm’s way.
The plot of the novel is complex and slow revealing. Chicago is rebidding to win the 2016 Olympics bid, after Rio opted out. Tokyo remains Chicago’s sole competitor, yet ironically a Japanese corporation has emerged as the major financial supporter of the Windy City’s bid.
In the end, the disparate elements of the novel gel together and leave the reader with a satisfying conclusion. A 9/11 type of disaster is averted in Chicago through the efforts of Bobby and Arleen, who ultimately are fated to remain together, both finding their own personal redemptions.
Newton writes like a guy who knows the streets of Chicago. He understands the city’s greatness as well as its insidious underbelly, that fascinating dichotomy that makes Chicago such a great source for storytelling.