Chicago Mysteries

Volume 29, No. 2, Summer 2013

Chicago Mysteries
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  • The Chicago Heat Parade Keeps on Marchin’ by Jim Doherty
  • Joe Friday on Steroids: The Life and Times of Frank Ballinger, M Squad by Jim Doherty


  • Shaking Chicago by Robert P. Bennett
  • Chicago Blues by Michael Biehl
  • The Chi-Town Connection by Michael A. Black
  • Sweet Home, Chicago by Tim Chapman
  • Chicago? How Did I End Up Here? by Alan Cupp
  • The Sons of Jude by Brandt Dodson
  • Me, Chicago, and the Second Most Famous Detective in All of Fiction by Jim Doherty
  • Meet Me on Division by Barbara Fister
  • Chicago, Because It’s in My DNA by Jack Fredrickson
  • My Tenuous Chicago Connections by Kaye George
  • Chicago Doesn’t Let Go by Madeline (M.M.) Gornell
  • I Moved To Chicago for the Weather by Libby Fischer Hellmann
  • Chicago—Near Future and Noir: Walking Shadow by Clifford Royal Johns
  • Chi-hago by Kylie Logan
  • Mobster Chicago Used as the Colorful Back Story by Ed Lynskey
  • We Chicagoans by Diane Gilbert Madsen
  • Chicago at the Racetrack by John McEvoy
  • Excavating Chicago for Mysteries by Frances McNamara
  • When Real Life Serves as an Inspiration by Catherine O’Connell
  • Stranger in My Own City by Clare O’Donohue
  • The Best of Settings by Helen Macie Osterman
  • Gem of the Prairie by Sam Reaves
  • Woman With a Broken Nose by Marcus Sakey
  • Paris on the Prairie by Jean Sheldon
  • Sweet Home, Chicago by Mike Sherer
  • Proud to be a South Sider by Sheldon Siegel
  • From Chicago Razzmatazz to Downstate Reality by Denise Swanson
  • The Boys Are Back in Town by Marshall Thornton
  • Crime, Death and the Undead in Chicago by Christine Verstraete
  • Cemeteries, Cesspools, and Other Favorite Things by David Walker
  • A Taste of Chicago by J.D. Webb
  • I Will, Chicago by Mary V. Welk
  • Chicago: The Layered Look by N.S. Wikarski
  • A Chicago Story by Mark Zubro


  • Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Terry Shames, Lesa Holstine, L.J. Roberts
  • Stranger Than Fiction: The Real Chicago by Cathy Pickens
  • In Short: Fabulous Chicago by Marv Lachman
  • Children’s Hour: Chicago by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • Crime Seen: The Dark Side of Chicago by Kate Derie
  • Just the Facts: Gunfighter by Jim Doherty
  • From the Editor’s Desk by Janet Rudolph

I Moved To Chicago for the Weather
by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Um… actually that’s a lie.

The truth is I moved to Chicago for a job. However, the weather is never far from Chicagoans’ minds. In a word, it’s frightful, especially from November through March, when the sun rarely shines and snow piles up higher than parked cars (or used to before climate change). It’s also pretty lousy in July when summer punishes the prairie with hot, arid days and nights. Nelson Algren said it best: “Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.”

Chicago: City on the Make. It’s an apt metaphor. Chicago is an inherent paradox: all bluster, business, even bombast on the surface; underneath, though, it’s a place where darkness creeps in around the edges. June may be busting out all over Chicago during the day, but you don’t want to be in the wrong place on a cool June night. Even during Chicago’s fleeting midsummer, there’s an uneasy recognition that as the days get shorter and the nights blacker, the dark can swallow you whole.

I’m not sure I understood the depths of that darkness when I moved here thirty-five years ago. At the time I thought Chicago was the best-kept secret in the country: a city with a stunning lakefront nestled in the shadows of skyscrapers…  a terrain so flat you could ride a bike for miles… a place where the Blues poured out of bars as freely as the beer. I loved the city’s beauty, its bluntness, its energy, even its hokey parochialism, seen on TV news via Bill Kurtis’s raised eyebrow, Fahey Flynn’s equanimity, or Walter Jacobsen’s perpetual fury. The city boasted two baseball teams, a decent football team, and Michael Jordan. Second City began here. Work was king, and people got up early. They stood in line, and when you went into Marshall Field’s, someone actually asked, “May I help you?”

It’s one of the few big cities through which it’s easy to drive, and the view of the skyline driving into town from the north or south is still magnificent. For me Chicago was a place of possibilities. Despite the Old Boy’s network, I had the sense that if someone had a good idea and was willing to work for it, they could make it here. And on clear, crisp days with the city spread out before me, it seemed like a sure bet.

It wasn’t until I ventured out of my geographical comfort zone that I began to hear and see the stories Chicagoans don’t like to talk about: the despair and isolation in Uptown where diversity may be king, but most of the people are paupers… the ruthless segregation on the South Side that breaks Chicago into two separate cities… the homeless curling up in cardboard boxes on Lower Wacker Drive… the never-ending cycle of graft and political corruption that, while it has put four governors in jail, still underlies everything that gets done or doesn’t get done in Chicago.

I have felt that hopelessness first-hand, tutoring eight and nine year olds, all the while knowing that a year or two hence, the girls will be selling their bodies and the boys their souls to the gangs. Chicago can break your heart that way. People who arrive here optimistic and eager never get the break they need. Others come seeking refuge but find only terror. People with good intentions see those intentions thwarted and manipulated.

Crime-fighters are supposed to protect the vulnerable, but there’s a thin line between law enforcers and law breakers. Everyone knows someone who can fix a ticket. And most know someone who’s connected. People understand that you can indict a ham sandwich in Chicago if necessary. Everything is political, even the pizza.

Is it unique to Chicago, this struggle between the light and the dark? Of course not. Most urban areas face the same issues. But Chicago is bigger and louder and more brazen than other cities, so its struggle seems more intense, more consequential.

In fact, the noir soul—or should I say soulessness—of Chicago has settled in my soul, and I feel compelled to peel back its layers like the onion for which the city was originally named. Why? Because the struggles that define Chicago make for extraordinary conflict. And conflict is the essential ingredient of good fiction.

So my muses lurk below the surface in the back alleys, blue-collar haunts, and dive bars of Chicago. I gravitate toward settings and time periods where dreams fail, lovers cheat, and money is short. I am drawn to the fear, the despair, the shards and detritus of those who tried and failed, and those who never had a chance. And when I hear about the heartbreak and desolation, or, occasionally, the dazzling redemption, I try to work them into my writing.

Since 2002 I have published ten novels and at least a dozen short stories that are set in Chicago. My first four crime novels, the Ellie Foreman series, are set on the affluent North Shore of Chicago, where darkness hides underneath the soccer fields and manicured lawns. But each of Ellie’s stories also takes place in a Chicago neighborhood you don’t want to end up in after dark. My subsequent three thrillers, featuring PI Georgia Davis, begin in Chicago but one ends up in Wisconsin and Arizona. My three stand-alone thrillers are largely set in Iran and Cuba, as well as Chicago in 1968, but even the foreign-set novels use Chicago as a home base.

It’s strange. I moved here from Washington, DC where I worked in broadcast news. Over the years I would meet transplants from Chicago who invariably told me how much I’d love it here. That I was the kind of person who would appreciate and thrive in the city. At the time I thought they were just full of hometown braggadocio, and I didn’t take them seriously. But it turned out they were right. I know without a doubt that had I not moved here, I would never have become a writer. Chicago has sucked me into its maw. It’s my kind of noir.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is a former broadcast journalist, editor, and producer. Currently, when not writing, she conducts speaker training programs, and writes and produces videos. Her thriller Havana Lost will be released in September 2013.

Woman With A Broken Nose
by Marcus Sakey

Chicago isn’t a city.

It’s a hundred cities, a thousand. Bustling and bumping up against one another. Cities that coexist, that overlap not only in space but in time. Chicago is a storied place, and every one of those celebrated stories made its own reality, realities that continue to exist in flashes and fragments even as the city they were based on changes.

The Chicago of Nelson Algren, who wrote that loving it was “like loving a woman with a broken nose”—that place is no longer on a map. It’s been paved over and polished up. But even so, Algren’s Chicago exists. You can catch a glimpse on a snowy night when the El rattles overhead, blasting sparks as it rounds a curve. In the quiet dignity of an old man, bent and tired but nattily dressed, out for a slow stroll around a block he used to walk with his wife. In the roar of the crowd at the Golden Gloves, cheering for a kid they don’t know as he swallows his fear and steps into the ring.

Mine is a city of contradictions. The parks and beaches of the gorgeous lakefront were built atop smoldering wreckage, the remnants of the Great Fire hauled in horse-drawn carts to be dumped in Lake Michigan. Donald Trump’s mirrored tower stretches to the heavens, but the shadow it casts falls on Rossi’s, a dive bar where you can buy beer by the six pack. Wander the streets of Lakeview, past the cafes and noodle bars, bookstores and head shops, and you’ll see a clean bright place as welcoming as a college campus. But hop the Red Line south a dozen stops and you’re in Englewood, a once-proud neighborhood ravaged by gang warfare and narcotics, where more than 50% of boys drop out of high school.

While New York looks east and Los Angeles looks west, Chicago is perhaps the most truly American city. Founded by traders who stole it from the Indians, raised to greatness on the back of stockyards that supplied the country and filled the air with the scent of cow shit, shaken by riots that exemplified the changing mores of a changing world, governed even today by wolves in wolves’ clothing, this is a city with swagger. You don’t like the Chicago way? Fuck you.

In the space of a weekend, I could take you to a dozen Chicagos. We could catch a world premiere show in a storefront theatre and follow it with a 22-course meal, each a sparkling gem of edible art. Or stroll the Maxwell Street Market on a Sunday afternoon, munching on tacos de lengua—seared beef tongue with cilantro, wrapped in fresh corn tortillas—and poking through junk-market stalls filled with stolen goods. Slather on sunscreen and join the party at North Avenue Beach, where bikini-girls and volley-boys flirt in the skyline’s reflected glare. Wander the cool halls of the Art Institute in the quiet of a weekday morning, and bathe in the blue holiness of Chagall’s stained windows. Lounge in a hundred-year-old pub and sip a Guinness as snow buries the cars outside.

No, Chicago isn’t a city. It’s a hundred, a thousand.

And for me, it’s the city.

Marcus Sakey‘s thrillers have been nominated for more than fifteen awards, named New York Times Editor’s Picks, and selected among Esquire‘s Top 5 Books of The Year. His novels Good People and Brilliance are both in development as feature films. Marcus is also the host and writer of the acclaimed television show Hidden City on Travel Channel. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.