For the month of September we have been crisscrossing the nation, visiting Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, and Seattle talking about the uniqueness of Crime Fiction from each of these places, and learning about the fictional detectives who work those streets.
Chicago, The Windy City.
Named year after year in numerous travel publication lists of best cities to visit, it is easily one of the most spectacular places in the world. There is something special about exploring the neighborhoods, having a meal in one of the numerous world-class and cozy local restaurants, catching a game, and studying the famed architecture, that feels so authentic and specific. Chicago is like no place else in the world.
Here in the office a quick game of word association revealed that most of our editors skipped over words usually synonymous with present-day Chicagoland, and moved straight to the 1920’s Gangster Era. And can they be blamed? After all, when asked to “name one gangster” the most common reply is Chicago’s own Al Capone. For better or worse, this time in American history is scorched into the generational knowledge of all American’s and teases or imagination even today.
Perhaps it’s this history of well executed crime, or maybe it’s just our love of trench coats and hats (necessary for life in Chicagoland) but there is something enduring about detectives from Chi-town. Here are some of our editor’s favorites, from across eras in history:
Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy: Although not specifically named as Chicago, that “unnamed Midwest town” is Chicago enough for us. One of the best and earliest examples of police procedurals, the endlessly satisfying Tracy stories made his gadgets, toughness, brains, and no nonsense attitude benchmarks for the genre.
Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski: It doesn’t get much more Chicago than growing up under the shadow of the old steel mills on the South Side. Warshawsi’s father was a cop; her mother a refugee from Italy. Restless, athletic, and full of energy, after a brief stint as a Public Defender she decided to be a PI and thus our love affair with this talented investigator began.
Sean Chercover’s Ray Dudgeon: A former journalist, Dudgeon is committed to the truth and hates corruption. Like many before him, his honesty ultimately brings him into conflict with those who operate outside his moral code. The man knows how to dig and ask questions, and isn’t that what we need the most in a good detective?
Max Allan Collin’s Nate Heller: The first book in Collins’ famed Heller series, True Detective, follows Heller in 1939 Chicago as he is forced to quit being a cop because of the constant corruption. He takes on his first case working for….wait for it….Al Capone. An ex-cop trying to do good while technically working for the mob? That’s the Chicago that keeps us turning the pages.