Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Suitcase Charlie -- Reviewed in CrimeSquad

British mystery writer Danuta Kot reviewed my book for CrimeSquad.com.

She liked it!

(Follow the link below if you're interested in mystery novels. Crime Squad is a great site for finding out about what's new in the genre.)

John Guzlowski - Suitcase Charlie

"...a true noir book with a convincing 50s setting and characters. "

Set in the mid-1950s in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago, the book is loosely based on a real-life murder, the Schuessler-Peterson murders, which were not solved for 40 years.

One night, a suitcase is found, dumped in the street. Inside is the dismembered and exsanguinated body of a child.

The case comes to detectives Hank Purcell and Martin Bondarowicz, both experienced police officers – Purcell, a married veteran of the recent war, Bondarowicz a chance-taking, heavy-drinking man, very much in the style of the traditional noir detective.

As further suitcases with their gruesome cargoes turn up on the streets, people become more and more terrified. Purcell and Bondarowicz are determined to find this killer, though the city authorities are more interested in making a quick arrest than coming up with a real solution.

The tropes of noir crime are well known to the point where they can easily be parodied or satirised, but Guzlowski plays is straight. This is a true noir book with a convincing 50s setting and characters. It is also a dark book with dark happenings among a poor and deprived population. This darkness is relieved by touches of real humour, and by the life-affirming portrayal of Purcell's dedication, his home life and his marriage.

Guzlowski portrays with real conviction the social deprivation and racial prejudices that plagued 1950s America – the racism that allows the murder of a black girl child to be ignored, the anti-Semitism that has followed the wartime refugees to their new home. He has a clear eye for the grotesque, and his depictions of nuns in a nearby convent, and a professor locked away in fear behind his own front door from marauding neighbourhood children create a vivid and convincing world. These people are served by a corrupt and inefficient law enforcement regime where men like Purcell have to fight not only the criminal world, but all too often their superior officers in order to do the work they are supposed to do. The combinations of horrific murders, the social upheaval of 50s Chicago and strong characterisation make this book a real page-turner.

Guzlowski presents the horror of his story without any grand guignol embellishment. The story he has to tell is dreadful enough, and Guzlowski wisely allows it to stand on its own. Those readers who are familiar with his poetry, will know that he is a writer well-able to record the worst that humans can do to each other, as well as the factors that lead to redemption and hope.

The ending is unusual – this may be the one place where Guzlowski moves away from the tropes of noir fiction. He also leaves the possibility open that Purcell and Bondarowicz may investigate again – if so, it will be a book worth waiting for.



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