Guzlowski, John. “Suitcase Charlie”, Kasva Press, 2018.
A Grisly Crime
I have never been much of a mystery reader and I am not sure why. In fact, the only mysteries that I read today are those that I am asked to review. I often find myself surprised at how much I end up enjoying a book that I might otherwise not have read. The blurb for “Suitcase Charlie” made the book sound fascinating but I would have to red it all to see how it affected me.
“May 30, 1956. Chicago On a quiet street corner in a working-class neighborhood of Holocaust survivors and refugees, the body of a little schoolboy is found in a suitcase. He’s naked and chopped up into small pieces. The grisly crime is handed over to two detectives who carry their own personal burdens, Hank Purcell, a married WWII veteran, and his partner, a wise-cracking Jewish cop who loves trouble as much as he loves the bottle. Their investigation leads them through the dark corners and mean streets of Chicago—as more and more suitcases begin appearing. Based on the Schuessler-Peterson murders that terrorized Chicago in the 1950s.”
Before I even opened the covers, I could tell that this was the story of the dark and disturbing side of humanity but I had no idea that it would also deal with what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil” although I hate to think that someone was capable of committing such a dastardly crime. Before I knew it the novel sucked me in.
Detective Purcell and Detective Bondarowicz have their own demons to face, but it doesn’t stop them from searching every corner of the city to find their murderer. We are with them as they go to The story is set at a tine when there was a lot of racism and writer Guzlowski also writes about covers anti-Semitism, the horrors of surviving WWII, and how it affected refugees from the war. These factors hamper the investigation as does the bureaucracy of their commanding officers.
The characters, settings, and social circumstances depicted are all very real as is the somewhat disturbing look at how racial and ethnic prejudices and propaganda can become dangerously part of society and internalized by individuals. The crimes here are gruesome and the police have become accustomed to the worst humankind has to offer even before they begin exploring the depraved murders. We see that anti-Semitism and intolerance survived the war and have followed refugees to Chicago’s parks and neighborhoods. The murder of a young black girl is more-or-less tossed aside and the lies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is alive and at work. Administrative paralysis and the police’s own growing dread and horror as they try to prevent another murder hurts the case.
My own personal tastes of literature includes prose that is sparse and I found the prose here to be a bit heavy especially about such a gruesome topic. The story is quite dark and the author captured the attitudes of the time as shameful as they were. The style is raw and fast-paced and justice is satisfying. However, I was not convinced to like reading mysteries. This was fine for a quickie but there is so much more beautiful literature out there that I have yet to read that I will continue to keep mysteries and crime novels on the back burner.