Chi Trib books section, demoted some time back to a Saturday feature and on a diet with other book sections in recent years, repays rather close attention, I am finding in recent weeks. Today, for instance, It talks up a mystery book about Chicago written not in recent years at all:
Sixty years ago, Chicago newspaper writer Fredric Brown, a Gary teenager who’d started his career as a proofreader on a Milwaukee paper, won an Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America. His book was “The Fabulous Clipjoint,” and it’s still considered one of the best crime novels about Chicago.
The reviewer, Dick Adler, reviews crime fiction for Publishers Weekly and other publications and blogs at The Knowledgeable Blogger, “for lovers of crime fiction — which he’d better update, since it calls him “a former” reviewer” for the Trib.
I have already ordered The Fabulous Clipjoint — set in the Tip Top Tap, atop the Allerton hotel on Boul Mich in 1948 at the latest — from ABE Books. The book aims to “preserve forever, like bugs in amber, the seedy pleasures of our shared pasts,” Adler tells us — invitingly to a Chicagoan who was then in his late ‘teens.
“We walked north two blocks on the east side of Michigan Boulevard to the Allerton Hotel. . . . The top floor was a very swanky cocktail bar. The windows were open and it was cool there. Up as high as that, the breeze was a cool breeze and not something out of a blast furnace. We took a table by a window on the south side, looking out toward the Loop. . . . ‘Beautiful as hell,’ I said. But it’s a clipjoint.”
That sort of stuff is not great, but it’s clean and clear. So is Adler’s discussion of it:
Ed [one of two prime protagonists] knows he has to find out what happened [to his murdered father] but can’t do it himself. So he heads for Janesville, Wis., where the J.C. Hobart carnival is doing business and looks up his uncle, Ambrose Hunter, a barker and roustabout who is the smartest man Ed has ever met. They head back to Chicago, where they pick up Wally’s trail, bribe a friendly detective, act like tough guys (not easy for the boyish Ed or the short and tubby Am), meet a swell dame who loves Ed and lies to him, and actually solve the murder.
Adler sold me, and his brief account of Frederic Brown’s writing life — “a man who often told his wife he hated writing” — did the same for a man he compares to Hammett “and other crime icons.” I look forward to the ABE copy, which I’m getting for under $5, shipped. An excellent service, that.