Book Review: Blood on the Arch by Robert J. Randisi (2000)

Well, in Randisi’s defense, he had just moved to St. Louis when he wrote this book and, given his prodigious output, he probably didn’t have a lot of time to research the area or how the police departments interoperate, but….

The book begins with murder on the grounds of the Arch or, as it’s formally known, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The intrepid St. Louis City police detective Joe Keough investigates the crime on his day off and then shuts the facility down indefinitely. I’m not so clear on the jurisdictional issues here, but I would expect the federal authorities to investigate a murder in a national park, which is what the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial represents. But in Keough’s world, this closure occurs without a squawk by federal employees. Underneath the Arch lies the Museum of Westward Expansion, capitalized in this book as a proper noun as the Arch Museum. So in the first few chapters, I got the sense that Randisi was unfamiliar with his setting.

So I spent much of my reader processing power looking for inaccuracies. They come aplenty. Twice, the main charater refers to St. John’s hospital as The Palace on Ballas, once asserting that everyone in St. Louis calls it that. I’ve never heard it called that before in my twenty years of residency in the St. Louis area (including five in the northwest corner of St. Louis County near St. John’s). The cop refers to the new prison in Clayton, but it’s a jail, not a prison, and a cop would probably know the difference. A city cop, even Detective Joe Keough, would not make an arrest downtown and book the suspect in Clayton as the city and the county are completely separate (the city of St. Louis is not even in St. Louis County because of some short-sighted short-term tax money greed in the late 1800s). Also, someone familiar with the layout of St. Louis, which I would expect from a cop, would not take Highway 44 to Highway 270 to travel from downtown to St. John’s–but a new resident to the city who lived in a southern or southwestern suburb might. Not Joe Keough, who lives right off of Highway 40 in the fashionable Central West End; I wager Randisi lived off of 44 and knew it as the main corridor to the suburbs from downtown because how he traveled. Let’s also overlook the claim that mayor of St. Louis is the most powerful man in the city. That bias probably carries right over from Randisi’s time in New York.

So as much as I hate to, I have to knock a fellow St. Louis author. I have to hope that when I add local flourishes to my novels that they won’t end up like this. Aside from the grimace-inducing local mistakes, the book is a servicable police detective story. It’s not up among the MacDonalds or Chandlers or Parkers, but it’s not low among the Liningtons. I paid almost five dollars for this book in a 80% off bookstore, where I also got my Roger L. Simons (also, one of whom Randisi is not).

I hope and fully expect the others in the series will be more technically accurate, so I haven’t written Randisi completely off, but I have no intentions of seeking him out new or used.

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