Thursday, 10 April 2014

Public Murders by Bill Granger, 1980

A little-known author and his little-known crime fiction make their way into Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

Soon it would be over. Now she could see. There was the knife only. She could see her own terrified eye reflected in the blade. She watched her own eye staring at her.

My copy of the book. © Prashant C. Trikannad
 
If someone asked me which was the grittiest crime novel I'd read in recent times, I'd have no hesitation in saying Public Murders by Bill Granger, the late journalist turned novelist from Chicago.

The story begins with nine men watching porn in a theatre. One of the men gets up from his seat and walks out. He follows Maj Kirsten, young, good-looking, blonde, Swedish, into Grant Park, Chicago, and brutally rapes and murders her. She is discovered naked and mutilated by a black kid playing softball with his friends.

Soon, two more young, good-looking, blonde immigrants are raped and killed in and around Grant Park. One of them, famous porn star Bonni Brighton, is knifed from behind and neatly cut from back up while watching her own film inside a theatre.

There are suspects including Bonni’s German father, Frank Bremenhoffer, who has disowned his daughter for being a cheap whore. But after months of intense public, media, and political scrutiny, the hard-nosed Chicago law enforcers are nowhere close to apprehending the serial rapist-killer.

Desperate for a closure, investigators send feisty policewoman Karen Kovac, young, good-looking, blonde, as “a decoy to entice a maniac.” Kovac is a single mother who wants to be transferred to homicide.


The characters
There are no heroes, only characters, like those you'll find in an Ed McBain novel. Their names are suggestive of actual Chicago policemen. Matthew Schmidt, “the tall, cadaverous lieutenant of homicide,” and Jack Donovan, chief of the criminal division for the state's attorney’s office, are the principal investigators. They are assisted by Sid Margolies and Terry Flynn, two no-nonsense plainclothes sergeants.

Breathing down their necks are Leonard Ranallo, chief of homicide, Thomas P. Halligan, the new state's attorney, and Leland Horowitz, first assistant and chief political meddler.

Mario DeVito is in charge of trial work at the state’s attorney’s office; Maurice Goldberg is a young assistant at Area One Homicide, where the crimes take place; and Karen Kovac is out to prove her worth as sex bait.

Bill Granger gives the reader a glimpse into the rather bleak personal lives of the law enforcers which is enmeshed with their professional duties. They have serious issues but they don’t let it affect their work. Matt Schmidt has a debilitating illness and his wife won’t wake him up at night, while Jack Donovan, father of two children, is separated from his runaway wife who is insane.

Most of the men are known to one another and 
have worked together before. Some of them, like Jack and Mario, are friends and depend on each other. The men work on this special case as a single unit. They are tough and competent.

Final word
Public Murders is a harsh portrayal of the underbelly of Chicago, its gritty crime investigation division, and its noisy criminal courtrooms.


Again, in the best traditions of a McBain, the novel is strong on police procedurals and courtroom procedures, police jurisdictions and overzealous investigation. The entire story revolves around these elements of crime fiction. Granger does not hold back. His style is blunt, even sexist and racist at times, in keeping with the overall narrative. His description of crimes is graphic but not overly disturbing. There is plenty of dialogue, a lot of it short and coarse; the way cops talk, straight from the shoulder. His detectives appear conscientious and play by the rules, somewhat reluctantly. There is dark humour. And there is frustration as the case drags on.

This is a realistic story that isn’t real. As Granger observes in the author’s note, “Realism presents a problem in this book. The novel is set in Chicago. Chicago is portrayed as it really is… Nevertheless, the story is fiction.”

Did I enjoy it? Very much.

Crime fiction buffs such as Sergio (a sworn Ed McBain fan) at Tipping My Fedora, Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery, and Col at his Criminal Library will like this book. I just hope they haven't read it yet.


© Chicago Sun-Times
The author
Bill Granger (1941-2012) was born in Wisconsin and died in Chicago where he lived most of his life. He specialised in political thrillers and wrote some 25 novels. His first was The November Man (1979), an espionage thriller. He also wrote under the pseudonyms of Joe Gash and Bill Griffith. Prior to becoming a published writer, Granger was a journalist at Chicago Tribune and other Illinois newspapers. He also served briefly in the US Army. Public Murders won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1981.

There is very little about Public Murders on the internet. However, I read a fine obituary of Bill Granger by Dennis Hevesi in The New York Times, May 5, 2012. Among other things, he says, “Mr. Granger’s favorite, and perhaps best-known, book was Public Murders, in which the city is in an uproar as a rapist-murderer strikes again and again. Public and political pressure exacts an emotional toll on the tough, foulmouthed detectives investigating the crimes.”

19 comments:

  1. hum, don't remember hearing his name. I'll have to check it out.

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    1. Charles, he is a new author for me too. I'll be looking for some of his other novels.

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  2. Prashant, as I was reading down, I was thinking I liked the sound of it, then you recommended it to me anyway! Cheers.

    Never heard of the author or the book (obviously) but I do like Chicago as a setting for crime fiction. Loved Eugene Izzi's books that were set there, plus Sam Reaves and latterly Dan O'Shea.

    Off now to look it and his other books (no doubt) up!

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    1. Col, I think you'll like this particular book as well as Granger's writing style. You've read more grittier stuff than PUBLIC MURDERS. The Chicago setting does make it more appealing.

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  3. This sounds much tougher than McBain Prashant - indeed, this may be a bit too gritty for me! Really enjoyed the review chum, thanks.

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    1. Sergio, thank you. Bill Granger has been compared to Ed McBain. In fact, the cover of my copy of the book says "Grittily realistic as the best of Ed McBain."

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  4. I have heard of Mr. Granger and now thanks to your review I want to read his work.

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    1. David, you're welcome. I think you'll like Granger's work. I haven't seen any of his other novels and I believe he has written some 25 books.

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  5. I've actually read all of Bill Granger's books. But last week, in a Good Will Thrift Store I found a copy of one of Granger's books...and it was signed!

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    1. George, you seem to have read nearly every author who has written anything and that's such an achievement. I wonder why he isn't as popular as some of his peers in crime fiction.

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    2. Did he make it out to anyone?

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  6. Not familiar with this author at all, and sounds TOO gritty for me, but interesting review, thanks.

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    1. Moira, you're welcome. PUBLIC MURDERS is gritty but not in a depressing sort of way. It's a regular crime-based novel with emphasis on police procedurals and investigation.

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  7. This is not for me but I loved your review. Thanks.

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    1. Neer, you're welcome. I picked it up for Rs.20 (less than 50 cents) from a secondhand bookstore. It was an impulsive buy and it paid off.

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  8. He's not one I've heard of. Thanks Prashant.

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    1. Rebecca, you're welcome. I hadn't heard of Bill Granger either but the moment I saw this book, I knew I'd to read it.

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  9. Again you have written an in-depth post about a book and an author... and it was very good reading.

    Thanks for pointing this author out to me and thanks for the mention. As I was reading your post, I was thinking... maybe too gritty for me. But when you talked about the police procedural elements and said how much you liked it... I figured it is worth a try.

    I had heard of Bill Granger because of the espionage fiction (but never read anything by him to my knowledge).

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    1. Tracy, thank you for the appreciation. It's not gritty in an unpleasant way though I might have conveyed that impression. It is filled with police procedurals and jurisdictions and knowing your interest in this area of crime fiction, I'm sure you'll like this novel. Granger offers a stark picture of the workings of the Chicago police department whose detectives and policemen are as human as anyone else. I hope you get a chance to read and review this cracker of a novel. I'm sure his espionage fiction is as good as his crime fiction.

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