Chicago, by David Mamet.
Pulitzer prize-winning playwright David Mamet has produced his first novel for some considerable time. As the cover shows, it’s a story of that city and its lawless inhabitants set in the 20’s: ‘that toddlin’ town where anything goes’, the song that Sinatra made famous all those decades later was not exaggerating. It was a city and a time that laughed at the law, but was seen to pay lip service – and bribes – to the various Irish ‘Upholders’ (the police and politicians) so that some crime was kept at a manageable level.
Prohibition was openly flouted; Speakeasies and brothels (run by the Italians led by Al Capone) flourished, and florists and funeral parlours did a roaring trade ‘cleaning up’ after the various gang wars, the florists often recovering flowers at the graveside so that they could resell them while still fresh. The ways to make money were myriad and infinite.
The men who reported the daily news i.e. knifings, shootings, robberies and hijacks were of a special breed, inured to emotion and suffering, only concerned with presenting the facts – or as much fact as they were permitted; they scorned sentiment and had total belief in journalistic honesty – and the restorative powers of the whisky always stowed in their desk drawer.
Such a man is reporter Mike Hodge, a veteran of the First World War. What he saw during the fighting in France prepared him well for Chicago’s lawlessness; no-one could be more detached than he – until the little Irish girl he loves is shot dead in front of his eyes by a stranger in a long foreign overcoat. Detachment is no longer possible and, after nearly killing himself with booze (so much for Prohibition), he decides he will find Annie’s murderer and exact the vengeance her killing demands.
Mr Mamet has painted a compelling and authentic picture of Old Chicago, peopled with fascinating characters of all stripes and a most satisfying solution to the mystery of Annie’s killing, but I have to admit to some confusion with the speech patterns: the coloured characters have a dialect that suits their humble origins, while the fearless reporters of the Herald Tribune – and some of the villains – speak a courtly, old-fashioned English that seems wildly at odds with their everyday life. And Mr Mamet is a lover of the comma and italics, all of which are sprinkled like confetti in the strangest places! That said, ‘Chicago’ is like ‘The Untouchables’ - a great amalgam of humour, horror and heart. FOUR STARS.