Shall We Not Revenge

Written by D.M. Pirrone
Review by Richard Bourgeois

Chicago is still recovering from the Great Fire of 1872 when detective Frank Hanley is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a rabbi. At first the mystery seems impenetrable; many of the Jews who might know something about the crime do not speak English, and those that do are reluctant to talk to an Irish Catholic policeman. Frank finds an unlikely partner in the rabbi’s daughter Rivka, fluent in both Yiddish and English and not afraid to break shiva to find her father’s killer. As the two get closer to the truth they uncover a connection between the murder and Frank’s shady past – a connection that will see Frank kicked off the force and thrown in jail with justice still undone.

It’s strange now to imagine a time when the Irish were openly persecuted as undesirables, and the police force of a major American city was ignorant of even the basics of Jewish culture. In 1872 both groups are highly marginalized; so as alien as they are to each other, Frank and Rivka at least have the disdain of more established Americans in common. Pirrone paints a beautifully grimy picture of life immediately following the Fire, with the displaced poor living in hastily constructed barracks and urchins hawking pieces of collapsed buildings as souvenirs. Frank manages to be both a hero cop and a mensch, while Rivka admirably balances the realities of the New World with her duty to the Old. Recommended.