In a time before both Amazon and GoodReads reviews became omnipresent, a person would pick something off the shelf because it interested them. They didn’t cross consult a third party to see if it would be worth their time, they just grabbed it and hoped for the best.
I confess that I sometimes miss living in the stone age. I took a chance on this one after seeing it for $3 in the discount section at my favorite bookstore: The Mysterious in lower Manhattan. Rarely do I get good cell service in The Mysterious, so I don’t even recall if I cross-referenced this with GoodReads. I just looked at it and said, “Hey, we got mystery, politics, Chicago, and it only costs three Georges. Let’s give it a shot.”
And I’m glad I did. This isn’t a hidden gem but it’s a fun tale told by a competent author that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The book functions less as a mystery and more about the culture and horse trading of favors in Chicago, as told through the perspective of a committeeman. The man, a kind but unremarkable sort named Jimmy Flannery, loves Chicago and is willing to change along with the changing times (this is set in the late-80s so post-Daley I, whom Flannery recalls with great fondness).
The writing style is nothing like James Ellroy and yet it reminded me a little of Ellroy in that most encounters in this book are expository and transactional. This is both a good thing and a bad thing in the book’s favor. On the one hand, it was enjoyable to see Flannery navigate through these neighborhoods, dispensing favors and being an enquiring mind. On the other hand, many of the characters come off as little more than composites and despite the dead body, the stakes never really feel big.
Also, this book is definitely 80s woke in ways endearing and laughable. Campbell is a little too proud of himself for writing a character who is a black gay gym instructor named “Princess.” But I also appreciated its surprisingly refreshing view on women’s reproductive rights and how women of color in particular get shafted by society. Flannery is not a “this city is changing around me, I don’t recognize it” type. He’s an every man doing an every man’s job. Investigating a murder just seems to be another political errand.
Anyway, huzzah to random finds. I don’t have a burning need to pour through the series, however, if I saw another Flannery book on the discount rack, I would likely pick it up.