Justice for None
Vermilion, Illinois, is a real place, sitting firmly in the rural eastern corn belt of the state. Though nearly deserted today, back in 1929 it was a decent-sized small town. Boyd Calvin – railroad man, war veteran, and former (involuntary) resident of the local soldiers’ home – comes upon a man sitting calmly by the body of his recently dead ex-wife and takes off. Captured and thrown in jail for her murder, Boyd escapes to inner-city Chicago with a black man falsely accused of rape, which leads to some gruesome scenes suggestive of The Jungle. Boyd returns to Vermilion to face the music, and the book’s remainder is a tense courtroom drama. Fortunately he has allies he didn’t know he had, like Major Dale Hennessy, proprietor of the soldiers’ home; Myrna Logan, sexy lady reporter with an attitude; and Claudie Falk, a feisty old woman who’s known him since his birth. Hard-edged descriptions of seedy hotels combine with suspense and Prohibition-era shiftiness to form an admirable noir thriller, but the Midwestern small-town locale sets the novel apart. Nearly all the people seem to be stereotypical toughened characters with a heart of gold, but don’t be fooled. The novel will keep you guessing until the stock market crash of October 1929, when nearly all of them head off into the slightly tarnished sunset.