Big City, Big Book
By Margaret Hicks in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 11, 2007 2:39PM
Sean Chercover definitely writes what he knows. In his debut novel, Big City, Bad Blood, Chercover takes us on a ride with private investigator Ray Dudgeon. Dudgeon is hired to protect a Hollywood patsy, Bob Loniski, who saw something he shouldn’t have and is now being hunted by the Chicago Outfit. Chercover himself was a private eye, and obviously a lover of Chicago, and his knowledge of both make for an enjoyable read.
Dudgeon isn’t quite as ornery as most private eyes; he drinks, but not too much; he fails in his relationships with women, but isn’t completely incompetent; he’s violent, but only when he needs to be. He’s a subtler version of most literary private eyes, and even the bad guys he fights for or against are pretty tame (except for a juicy, gruesome torture scene). It’s as if Chercover is telling us the true story, instead of one that’s been dramatized for effect.
Dudgeon’s morality is what is really at stake here, as he fights the men trying to take over the Outfit, he ends up protecting the Outfit itself. Early on Dudgeon reads that “Withersoever the wheel of Fortune turns, Virtue stands firm upon her feet.” In the span of his story, we come across good cops, bad cops, bad mob guys, and good mob guys, and we spend the book deciding, along with Dudgeon, if virtue stands firm.
It’s fun to read Chercover’s descriptions of Chicago; they’re spot on, as opposed to some other media that seem to get everything wrong. When talking about the “monstrosity now called U.S. Cellular Field” Chercover waxes about baseball fandom: “My idea of nirvana would be watching the Cubs beat the White Sox in game seven of the World Series. And that could never happen unless both teams bade it to the Big Dance. Defeating a worthy opponent is true victory — there’s little sense of achievement in beating an unworthy opponent. Baseball players get this — I wonder why so many fans miss the point.” Lots of Chicago love is scattered throughout, The Goodman Theatre, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, Irv Kupcinet, and a quick but effective diatribe on the commercialization of Chicago help to make the city a vivid character.
You can see Sean Chercover at his book-release party tonight at 8:00 p.m. at Sheffields, 3258 N. Sheffield.