Windy City Blues

In her fun very readable Windy City Blues (Berkley 2017; $16), Chicago author Renee Rosen again takes another slice of the city’s history and turns it into a compelling read.

Rosen, who plumbs Chicago’s history to write such books as Dollface, her novel about flappers and gangers like Al Capone, and What the Lady Wants which recounts the affair between department store magnate Marshall Field and his socialite neighbor, says she and her publisher were racking their brains for her next book which encompassed Chicago history.

“She suggested the blues,” says Rosen, who didn’t have much interest in the subject.

But Rosen was game and started her typical uber-intensive research.

“When I discovered the Chess brothers, who founded Chess Records, I fell in love,” she says, noting that when researching she was surprised about how much she didn’t know about the subject despite her immersion in Chicago history for her previous books. “I thought this is a story.”

“As part of my research, I drove the Blues Highway from New Orleans to Chicago,” she says. “I also met with Willie Dixon’s grandson and with Chess family members.”

Combining fact and fiction, Rosen’s story follows heroine Leeba Groski, who struggling to fit in, has always found consolation in music. When her neighbor Leonard Chess offers her a job at his new Chicago Blues label, she sees this as an opportunity to finally fit in. Leeba starts by answering phones and filing but it soon becomes much more than that as she discovers her own talents as a song writer and also begins not only to fall in love with the music industry but also with Red Dupree, a black blues guitarist.

Windy City Blues was recently selected for Chicago’s One Book project, a program designed to engage diverse groups of Chicagoans around common themes. Rosen says she is very honored to be a recipient.

“I put my heart and soul into this book,” she says. “I think it’s a story with an important message. In it are lessons of the Civil Rights movement, what it was like for Jews and people of color along with the history of the blues and the role of Jews in bringing the blues to the world. After all, as the saying goes: Blacks + Jews = Blues.”

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Love and Theft

“In April 2007, two stolen Audi A8s smashed through the glass façade of the Wafi Mall in Dubai,” says Parish. “In a marble rotunda, the white car rammed the secure entrance of Graff Jewelers, while the black car spit out men in masks with automatic weapons.”

         Starting fast—a motorcycle convoy roars through the lobby of the Wynn Las Vegas, staying only long enough to scoop up millions of dollars’ worth of stones from a classy jewelry store before riding away—Stan Parish’s latest novel “Love and Theft” (Doubleday 2020; $19.49 Amazon price) never slows down.

         Told from multiple points of view, we follow the police as they work to solve the crime as well as the thieves planning their next one last heist and not getting busted. We move with the action from Vegas to Jersey and then to the luxe vacation destination of Tulum, Mexico. Along the way there are weird stops such as one at the home of a doctor who injects willing subjects with a hallucinatory drug that helps them calm down while he and his wife, wearing wired masks, communicate their insights while taking notes.

         It’s all breathless but at the same time human. Neither cops nor bad guys are cartoon characters here. Parish makes them real while juggling the fast-paced plot.

         His interest in mystery-thrillers began when he was around 10 or 11 and pulled a copy of “Dog Soldiers” from his dad’s bookshelf. Parish was ordered to put it back, his father telling him it was full of sex, drugs and violence. Of course, the book only stayed on the shelf until his parents went to bed.

         Inspiration also comes from stories he hears from what he reads and hanging out.

         “In April 2007, two stolen Audi A8s smashed through the glass façade of the Wafi Mall in Dubai,” says Parish. “In a marble rotunda, the white car rammed the secure entrance of Graff Jewelers, while the black car spit out men in masks with automatic weapons.”

         It was the work of a successful gang called the Pink Panthers and became the basis for the opening sequence of “Love and Theft.” But the book is also fueled by what he calls being a diviner though instead of finding water he has “a sixth sense for strange subcultures, suspicious characters, and after-after parties.”

         A few years ago, in Marbella, Spain he was invited to a party at the home of several young bullfighters and during the evening “divined” that some of their income derived from storing drugs for a local cartel. That experience too became a plot point in the novel.

         The former editor-in-chief of The Future of Everything at The Wall Street Journal whose writings have appeared in the New York Times, Esquire and GQ, Parish earned a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and moved to Los Angeles from New York a few years ago. But now he’s living in Europe, waiting for the pandemic to end. He’s dedicated to his craft. Planning on finishing his thriller in Malaga, Spain, he accidentally left his computer, notes and outline behind at JFK International Airport in New York City and while calling lost and found everyday hoping it would turn up, tapped out sections his novel on his cell phone his while riding in cabs late at night. His life, in other words, seems to track his fast-paced novel.

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