By Claire Cowley
Chicago native Ian K. Smith has written a new murder mystery, The Unspoken—An Ashe Cayne Novel, released in early October as the first in a series of thrillers.
An author, physician, nutrition expert, and television and radio medical correspondent, Smith has written more than 15 books, including health related works such as Shred: The Revolutionary Diet, Blast the Sugar Out!, Clean and Lean, and in 2020, Mind Over Weight.He also hosts the television show The Doctors, broadcast weekdays on Channel 26 The U at 9 a.m.
Smith hopes to add to society’s discourse on alleged police brutality in his new book series, for which he hopes to write up to 20 novels.
“It was clear to me from the very beginning that Ashe Cayne was going to be a series because the character I wanted to develop and the cases he would take on would deserve a life longer than one book,” Smith said.
He noted Cayne has plenty of adventures in store in the future, taking readers through the streets, stadiums, mansions, and rundown housing in various Chicago neighborhoods.
“Ashe is a hero for our time, complicated in some aspects, simple in others,” Smith said. “Ashe is a man who is determined to seek justice at all costs and is fearless in his pursuit without taking himself too seriously.”
Ex-cop turned PI
In the novel, Ashe Cayne, who is African American, is a former police detective who turned in his shield and retired to private investigating after refusing to go along with corruption. The police department wanted Cayne to condone the police-involved shooting of an unarmed black man on the South Side, in a case similar to the real life shooting death of Black teenager Laquan McDonald by a police officer on the West Side in 2014.
Smith said he wrote this book before the recent increased spotlight on racial injustice, noting disturbing elements in the McDonald case such as the attempt to suppress bodycam video clearly showing the incident.
“It just made me think, had it not been for that bodycam video, we might never have learned the truth of what happened that night,” Smith added.
In the novel, Cayne refuses to stand by and keep silent about a miscarriage of justice.
“The conversation hasn’t subsided since I wrote the book,” Smith said. “Rather, it has gotten louder and more detailed and more collective.”
Smith noted alleged police brutality is an issue decried not only by people of color but by others who refuse to remain silent in the presence of brutality, racial and gender discrimination, and economic suppression.
“People need to recognize this, and the time is long overdue that this must come to an end,” Smith said.
He called killings of unarmed people of color deplorable, inhumane, and absolutely unacceptable. Unlike past incidents, “the difference is now that all of the recent high profile cases have been highlighted in the mass media and social media,” Smith said.
People standing together
Smith noted people who stayed silent before now are raising their voices and saying they will no longer tolerate injustice. He said he is glad to see people across all races and backgrounds standing shoulder to shoulder, refusing to accept the continued killing of citizens based on racial biases.
“This is an important inflection point in our country’s history, and for the first time in my life there is real optimism that real change will come,” Smith added, noting this issue affects not just communities of color but the entire country.
He outlined the racial wealth gap in historically segregated Chicago, where each community is characterized by its resources.
“The disparities in Chicago are some of the worst in the country,” Smith said. “You can’t have a cohesive city and trust in ‘the system’ when this type gap exists.”
Smith said people accept such disparities only for so long before they lead to unrest and protest.
“Obviously, everyone can’t be equal when it comes to wealth ownership, but the process of attaining wealth and the opportunities to achieve must be fair and equal and unbiased,” Smith said.
In his book, he argues that politicians and rich families work together to get rich at the expense of the less fortunate.
Smith describes the power dynamic of people according to their socioeconomic status, spanning from the North Side, well educated elite to entrepreneurial gang members on the West Side. He set up the plot with intriguing, suspicious characters, each of whom has secrets.
Tinsley Gerrigan, a 25-year-old White woman, is missing from her well-to-do family. Her father, Randolph Gerrigan, owns substantial real estate and engages in sleazy money-making deals.
Cayne gets his leads from key characters such as Burke, an Irish American detective, who has connections to City Hall, and Mechanic, who has ties to the West Side. Catalina Espinoza, an administrative supervisor at police headquarters, is Cayne’s romantic interest. Ice Culpepper is a multimillion-dollar drug gang enterprise boss and uncle of Tarik “Chopper” McNair, a 24-year-old Black man from Bronzeville who was murdered after getting caught up in City corruption and an interracial relationship with Tinsley, whose family disapproved of it despite Chopper’s turning his life around by attending DePaul University and earning honors.
Chopper’s murder came after Tinsley wanted to expose her father and the illegal financial gains in which the elite indulge with no retribution from law enforcement.
Smith includes a secondary plotline about a case Cayne works simultaneously and which involves Mark Stanton, a religious leader who raped and abused children. Throughout the book, Cayne argues the system favors the very rich because, if regular people behaved as those with big money, the authorities would lock them up.
Smith said nonfiction and fiction share similarities but have dissimilarities. For him, the constraints on imagination is the biggest difference for him as a writer when he is writing nonfiction.
“Yes, there’s an element of creativity in nonfiction, but it tends to be very linear and predominantly based on factual findings that tend to be the discovery of others and not yours,” Smith said. If an author writes about the science of happiness, for example, Smith explained he or she can find many research articles and papers from which to draw information and conclusions upon which to expound.
“When you write fiction, you have a blank canvas, and you can write whatever you want and go wherever you want and you can determine how much of it is tethered by facts,” Smith added.
He plans to write two books a year.
“So far so good, but we’ll see how long I can keep up that pace,” Smith said. “It’s challenging, but I enjoy the pleasures both genres bring me.”
Smith said he hopes his new book entertains readers. He believes universal karma always prevails.
“I want them to be totally engrossed in the characters and the story,” he said. Along the way, he wants readers to learn about the great city of Chicago, including its rich history and complexities.
Michigan Avenue, the University of Chicago, Kenwood, and Bronzeville are some of the locations in the book.
The Unspoken has been optioned to become a television series, and Smith is excited about the possibility of Cayne’s journey making it to the screen.
Smith said he already has written the next installment of the Cayne series, entitled Wolf Point.
The Unspoken is available through bookstores and online booksellers.