Reviews by L. J. Roberts


JACK FREDRICKSON – The Black Cage. Milo Rigg #1. Severn House, hardcover, February 2020. Setting: Contemporary Illinois/Indiana.

First Sentence: The color had been sucked from everything, not just the dead.

   Milo Rigg is a reporter who’s lost his byline due to perceived inappropriate behavior while on his last story. Still working in a city where police corruption is the norm, on a paper at the edge of going under, submitting his stories under his boss’s name, and suffering nightmares about his late wife, an old case comes alive when new bodies are discovered. Now, with a new boss, and new clues, Rigg is determined to follow the story to the killer and to regain his reputation.

   If one has previously read Fredrickson, this is a book darker in tone and emotion than his previous works, and that’s not a bad thing as it’s always nice to see an author stretch. The introduction to Milo through his interaction with senior sheriff’s deputy Jerome Glet is very effective. As a character, Milo stands out. Fredrickson makes one feel the pain of his loss, both personally and professionally, his frustration with his job, the demise of print newspapers overall, and the corruption and ineptitude of the police. Without words, one feels the turmoil of Milo’s emotions– “There was no ‘before’ to it, no past. It was still all so damned present.”

   Fredrickson’s descriptions are evocative. They perfectly reflect the tragedy of the scene– “Snow began to fall in big wet flakes, like tiny shrouds descending to cover the horror of what had been found there.” One is very effectively drawn into the story by hints, traces of things; by intriguing references to people, places, and events.

   The inclusion of the news articles, along with Milo having other small stories to write, adds realism to the story and provides details in a concise manner without filling space with exposition. Fredrickson accurately, and sadly, conveys what has happened to print newspapers– “…the third floor, the reporters’ floor, was now a ghost town. Half the cubicles were empty… People no longer read the ink of the news; … they wanted that in tiny bits on screens that they could delete in an instant if it was too upsetting or demanded too much concentration…”

   The increase in tension is subtle and very well done. There is one point where one may think they understand what is happening and suspicions arise. It’s best to trust Milo and follow along as he builds scenarios, setting out to prove, or disprove, them.

   Milo’s recurring dream of the black cage is a constant theme. However, the reveal of the association is both anti-climactic but strangely satisfying. There are a lot of characters, but Fredrickson is very good at reminding one of who each character is and their role. The plot twists are well-timed and very effective.

   The Black Cage has a startling climax, an excellent final twist, a nice tie-up, and a strangely bittersweet ending. It’s important to note that, although dealing with the deaths of children, the story is not gruesome in that the murders happen off-page and are a fait accompli when one learns of them. The beginning of a new series, Milo is a character one looks forward to following into upcoming books.

Rating: Very Good.