Racial butchery in Chicago, 1919–68.
While freelancing as a building inspector for his lady friend Laura Hathaway, CEO of Sturdy Investments (War at Home, 2005, etc.), private eye Smokey Dalton makes a grisly discovery. Three bodies have been bricked up in the basement, perhaps immured years ago by Laura’s father, who took possession of the building in the ’40s and enlisted Mortimer Hanley to manage it. Working with forensics expert LeDoux and autopsy specialist Minton, Smokey unbricks more bodies and some clues dating back to 1919 when the area, known as the Levee, was rife with gambling, prostitution, racial warfare over jobs, and cops used to dumping black troublemakers wherever they pleased. It’s not so different from the ’50s and ’60s, when the police covered up the murder of Emmett Till and provoked violent confrontations with radical Weathermen, and Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, tried to guilt Smokey into activism. Tracing racism from generation to generation, Smokey and his unofficial son Jimmy, who fled Memphis after Martin Luther King’s assassination, are catapulted into corruption that spreads from the police station to the courthouse.
Nelscott reconstructs an unlovely Chicago past that leads directly to the havoc of the Conspiracy trial, the death of Fred Hampton and the racial unrest of the ’60s. As an explanation of whoring, thieving and terminating with extreme prejudice, this is as good as it gets.