City of Windows by Robert Pobi
Wednesday, August 7, 2019 at 7:20AM
TChris in Robert Pobi, Thriller

Published by St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books on August 6, 2019

Snipers are apparently the thriller flavor of the month. On the heels of Tzer Island’s review of Game of Snipers comes Tzer Island’s review of City of Windows, another thriller in which the villain is a sniper who shoots with amazing accuracy. While Game of Snipers will appeal to fans of gun porn and thrillers that feature terrorists from the Middle East, City of Windows recognizes that ill-named “patriot militias,” consisting of poorly educated white men, pose “the greatest threat that exists to American security.” As I was reading City of Windows, the accuracy of that observation was driven home by the white supremacist who killed 20 people in El Paso because of his irrational hatred of their national heritage. The recognition that the number of mass shootings in America committed by white American Christians dwarfs the number committed by Islamic extremists sets City of Windows apart from mainstream thrillers. Gun porn fans are likely to hate it.

Lucas Page is a math whiz. He goes into a place in his head that lets him see everything as data. He no longer works for the FBI, but when his former partner is killed by a sniper in New York City, Lucas is called upon to close his eyes and figure out the location from which the shot was fired. That isn’t easy in a city of windows.

Lucas is missing an arm, a leg, and an eye, the result of his former law enforcement career. Now he is a professor with a wife and five children who were adopted from shattered homes. He has no desire to work for the FBI again, so of course he will, notwithstanding the wife who initially complains about his misplaced priorities. All of that is standard thriller fare.

Lucas has an impatient attitude that makes him an interesting character, although you might not want him to be your co-worker. He tells a prison guard who insists on being called a corrections officer that air conditioner installers should not expect to be called refrigeration engineers. He has no patience for the dumbing down of America, which he blames on fact-challenged opinion makers of all political persuasions. He lambasts both the propaganda-disguised-as-news served up by Fox and the focus on talking heads rather than facts served up by CNN.

The administration wants the killing blamed on a Muslim terrorist. They have one in mind and the FBI has been ordered to find him. That seems sadly plausible in today’s political world. The agent in charge wants Lucas to focus his skills on finding the real killer while the rest of the Bureau is chasing wild geese for the administration.

A series of shootings follow, all seemingly impossible shots, mostly made in bad weather. Rightwing militias (described as dimwitted and emotionally unstable bullies who have been irradiated by rightwing media) eventually enter the investigative radar. The story illustrates the madness that ensues when individuals who refuse to submit to society’s laws clash with law enforcement officers who enforce laws blindly. As in Waco, where both cops and outlaws want to prove that they are the baddest men on the block, confrontations that could be managed nonviolently instead explode.

The novel becomes a bit preachy at times, but its timely condemnation of white supremacists and their gun culture is a message that needs to be preached. An ironic “live by the sword” moment involving an NRA leader might be criticized as heavy-handed. Still, the novel is a welcome change from all the thrillers that depict armed white men as saviors who protect America from Muslim terrorists.

City of Windows earns a recommendation not because of its politics (I recommended Game of Snipers despite its politics), but because it is a smart, engaging thriller. Lucas assembles all the clues in a Sherlockian effort to identify the killer. The plot takes a clever twist at the end when Lucas comes to a new understanding of the killer’s choice of targets. Lucas’ disability and gift with spatial reasoning might be a bit gimmicky, but he is an admirable character because he solves problems by using his intellect, not by being bigger and tougher than everyone else. The story moves quickly, and the ending is no less plausible than is typical in thrillers. If Robert Pobi continues to write at this level, the Lucas Page series will be attract a large following, even if gun porn enthusiasts are not likely to embrace the unarmed Lucas as a hero.


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