When a dead arm forced Ben Barklee from major-league baseball, he already had a Plan B – teaching English at a local university. Only half-passionate about teaching, he complements his income from and interest in teaching with a part-time career as a private investigator, or, as he calls it, a confidential consultant. Investigating a potential son-in-law for a colleague leads to Mr. Barklee’s entanglement with a drug-dealing biker gang, one of whose hobbies appears to be bludgeoning nosy people to death.

With brains, brawn and bluff, Mr. Barklee outwits, outsmarts and out-lucks the bad guys and smooths over the ragged parts of the story in time for the birth of his second child.

Mr. Barklee and his creator, Evanston author G.W. (William Kennedy) are fond of Charles Dickens. Mr. Barklee often quotes from him or refers to his characters, and Mr. Kennedy begins each of the three parts of “Dead Arm” with a quote from or about Dickens’ works. The plot itself is Dickensian – with a marriage investigator from India, a boisterous radio talk-show host, corrupt police officers and an unfortunate son whose father thinks learning how to pitch a knuckleball will be the way to fame and fortune.

“Dead Arm” takes place in the Chicago area. Readers will enjoy framing the episodes in familiar landmarks and perhaps recall their own dizzying rides on the Kennedy Expressway. The lakefront university, Ridgehaven, could evoke thoughts of Northwestern but for the nearby quarry, which seems to be the holding tank for local murder victims.

This book is an easy read. Ben Barklee is a typically wry observer of the lives and people around him, at times handling the situation better by not making the wisecracking retort. There are plenty of bodies here, but no gratuitous violence and no sleazy sex.  

“Dead Arm” is the second Ben Barklee novel, but the first one published in the United States. The first one will be reissued early in the new year as “Purpose Pitch.” Both books are published by Sarah Book Publishing. “Dead Arm is available in hard copy “on demand” and e-book formats at sarahbookpublishing.com and at Amazon.com.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...