Murder City Girls and a 75th Anniversary
by Weston Cutter
Oh good lord is this a fun book. Easy admission at the outset: I could care less about the musical (or movie) Chicago; I’m exceptionally fond of the town, but for reasons that have nothing to do with female murderers of the early 20th century. In fact, I wouldn’t've guessed, at this book’s outset, that it’d draw me in as it did, simply because it didn’t seem or smell like my cup of tea. But then I cracked it. And then, the next night, I was suddenly already thick into the thing. Then, the next few nights, the thing was done.
And what tremendous ease makes falling into this book’s story so freakishly simple and fun and good? Two words: Douglas Perry. Dude’s writing is astonishing, in ways that are actually tricky and hard to parse. Like the best writers, Mr. Perry takes the reader down a narrative path that, once you’ve trod/read it, feels 100% inevitable yet which, had you thought hard about where you’d be headed, you wouldn’t've guessed where you’d end up. In other words—he perfectly balances surprise and expectation. Here’s the truth: Douglas Perry is a master.
Though let’s give a bit of credit, too, to the three canny women who pack this story’s soul: Belva Gaertner, Beulah Annan, and Maurine Watkins. The first two were beautiful murdereresses (such, such a great word), the last a rookie newspaper writer with a background one wouldn’t presume automatically made her an ideal choice as a crime reporter, and the three of them, together, intersect to form an interesting prism through which the reader’s bound to flash his or her questions as they come, questions which’ll have to do with the surge of liberalism that allowed women to get away with ankle-bearing skirts and public cigarette smoking and (that awfulest vice) jazz, questions that’ll touch in notions of celebrity and public manipulation, questions that’ll have to do with feminism (big, fascinating, hairy, complex questions on that issue, just fyi).
It’s a stellar, stellar book, and Douglas Perry is a fantastic writer, and, not least, this book is coming soon from Viking, which is part of the Penguin imprint, and today, July 30th, is the 75th anniversary of the press. Not only is Penguin one of the biggest and best forces in publishing, and that it has been for so, so long (check what they’ve published, for a run-down: start with Gravity’s Rainbow if you can’t think of anything else), and that, through their various imprints, they still put out much of the most exciting books around (hey there, Stewart O’Nan, Evan Wright, Joe Flood, Zadie Smith, Kurlansky, Vollmann, etc. etc. etc.), but they’ve also supplied a copy of one of their books for us here at Corduroy to give away. Write if you’d like it (it’s a surprise, what the actual book is, but it’s good+worth it), and, for sure, check out the website dedicated to their anniversary. I know, I know: it’s authors who make the books, and we should all, always, write to our favorite authors and thank them for the good work, but the work places like Penguin (and the rest) puts into books is just as laudable, just as important.
NOTE: Contest now closed. Given the response, I’m thinking it’s time to run a book contest every Friday. Look for it, hopefully soon.