In a nice change of pace for whodunit writer Raleigh (The Riverview Murders, 1997, etc.), here’s a warm and wise view of Irish Chicago—as seen through the eyes of an eight-year-old orphan being raised by his boisterous, hard-drinking kin.
In 1954, Danny Dorsey had a nightmare from which he never really woke up when his parents are killed in a head-on car crash. The blur of days and mourning that follow are bad for him, but there’s never a doubt in anyone’s mind that he’ll be taken care of. And once he moves into his maternal grandparents’ house, where two of his uncles and an aunt still live, he finds that his occasions of private grieving are offset by new adventures. Since his grandmother and the others have jobs, when not in school he’s left largely in the care of his grandfather, a pensioned streetcar supervisor, whose routines favor riding all over Chicago for free and frequent tavern visits. Danny has time to roam too, first with his troubled cousin Matt and later with his fearless friend Rusty. But it’s his connection with his youngest uncle, Tom, that keeps him centered amid the conflicts and chaos of an Irish-American boyhood. Tom has dreams and desires that he shares with his nephew, among them the wish that he’d played pro baseball instead of working in a dairy. Tom has an eye for the ladies as well, but one in particular has the rest of the family shaking their heads—with good reason, as Danny discovers on his outings with the two of them. But Tom’s troubles, as well as Danny’s, are only part of the much larger tapestry of family life, in which laughter has as much a place as worry and sadness.
An engrossing tale that—even if it does seem to capture the entire Irish-American experience from the family nun a bit too neatly—is filled with fine writing and compassion.