It’s 1925, and Mike Hodge, a city beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune and decorated war veteran, falls in love, hard, with Annie Walsh. When she’s killed at Mike’s apartment, an apparent gangland victim, he sets out to find the killer.
But not immediately, for Mamet focuses on Mike’s grief, which immobilizes him for quite some time. Though this feels true to life and a refreshing change from sleuths who shake off deep bereavement in a paragraph, Chicago errs in the other direction. When Mike’s friends tell him, enough about “the Irish girl” already, you want to agree. There’s too much talk, riddled with italics, a sign of the staginess that pervades the narrative, which consists of short scenes that don’t always cohere. The mystery plot stalls until around page 150 and only takes off much later, though the language is wonderfully colloquial, and a few vignettes carry a sharp, penetrating edge. This is Mamet land, where cynicism rules, and corruption infects everyone and everything.
Oddly, Annie hardly appears and has few, if any, directly reported words. Is she supposed to be an abstraction? A sex object? On the other hand, Mamet has a keen eye for newspapermen and the underworld they write about, and whose codes and operations feel like second nature. The mystery comes across vividly too, with many twists, though few moving parts, an elegant, economical style.
I suspect, though, that most mystery fans will want to look elsewhere, and, though I hate to say this about a writer I admire, Chicago’s re-creation of time, place, and attitudes fails to make up for other deficits.