Many murders, a ravenous press, villains ordinary and extraordinary, cops intrepid, cops corrupt—all mingled in bland retellings of sensational cases from 1920s Chicago.
Lesy (Literary Journalism/Hampshire Coll.) revisits 17 cases. He begins in 1920 with the case of Carl Wanderer, hanged for killing his wife and another man. From there, the author takes readers on a bleak journey featuring sad little people with big guns and no conscience. Harvey Church killed guys for a new Packard. Thomas Catherwood offed a woman for $50. A banker faced with financial ruin, thanks to an embezzling partner, blew out his brains in his car. Other sterling characters include a cross-dresser, a couple of hit men who apparently stepped from the pages of Hemingway’s “The Killers,” a guy who decided to compete with Capone (not a good plan) and a Wisconsin farmer named Christ who dreamed of his daughter’s death. The creepiest, most Byzantine case involves the disappearance and death of Northwestern student Leighton Mount. Was it murder? A hazing gone wrong? A massive cover-up by the university? Fans of the musical Chicago will enjoy reading the chapter about the actual cases it was based on, but all this sordidness has a sad, eye-glazing sameness that Lesy’s narcotic narration deepens rather than relieves.
Bodies drained of vital fluids, prose drained of affect.