Thursday, August 30, 2007

And The Victim, Well He Won't Come Back

By Kevin Guilfoile

Perhaps you amateur detectives would like to know what really happened.

That's from a mysterious comment to my last post on the Cornbleet murder case. If you can excuse me on a lazy holiday weekend, I'm going to revisit the story.

Someone calling himself "Accutane Peterson" weighed in several times to defend confessed killer Hans Peterson (left in a high school photo) with some vehemence. In our thread this person identified himself as an anonymous member of the Peterson family, but Accutane Peterson has left similar comments in other news groups where he identifies himself as Hans Peterson's father. His long and sometimes rambling replies nevertheless give you the outlines of what will undoubtedly be Hans's defense if he ever goes to trial.

I also wrote about the story over at where I revealed some of what I've learned about Hans from various people close to the case. The discussion there has also been informative. If you would like clarification of some of the extradition issues that have been in the news, I encourage you to read through them.

And finally I'd like to point everyone once again to the online petition to have Peterson extradited back to the US. It's looking more and more like a futile effort, however, and, bizarre as it may seem, it appears Hans, who does not even speak French, will be tried as a French citizen in a French Caribbean court for a brutal murder he committed in the US against another American.

C'est la something or other.

Update: Jocelyn Cornbleet, Dr. Cornbleet's daughter, is scheduled to appear on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News program On the Record this Monday night at 9 PM Central.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Criminal, Sociopath, or Just Plain Stupid?

This title could refer to the Calabrese family, on trial in Chicago this summer (and ably written about by our very own Barb D'Amato in Sunday's Tribune). It could even refer to the legions of long-suffering Cub fans. But I was thinking more particularly of Michael Vick.

Disclaimer: I am a football fan. Pro football goes against all my deepest principles, but I love it anyway. One of my cousins, Chip Edwards, played defensive end for Duke. He was recruited by the Chiefs and the Cowboys. I respected his decision to turn his back on football--too many times waking up and not knowing if it was blue sky or blue grass he was looking at--but I had regrets--I imagined myself, cousin of the star, with 50 yardline tickets.

Michael Vick said in federal court today that his five years of dog torture and dog fighting were an "aberration." He apologized to the children who idolize him.

Liza Cody (whose books should be on everyone's nightstand--no one writes her beautiful, economic prose) says that despite the many different ways humans have suffered and/or died in her books, the only time she got an angry letter from a reader was when she killed a cat. Is this what we're seeing with Michael Vick? He's not such a bad guy, just that he liked the thrills and bills you get with dog fighting? But because all of us liberals like Fifi and Rover, we can't deal with a man who himself is trained to fight running a dog-fighting ring?

Six years ago, a Chicago police sergeant visited me with a pit dog he was having to put down. He'd rescued her from a torture chamber on the south side, but she'd been punished too much to be redeemed. the ASPCA says only about 10 percent of fighting dogs can be rehabilitated; the rest have to be euthanized. The sergeant wanted me to write a book about dog fighting, but the photographs he had were too shocking. I couldn't take it and had to say no. The sergeant said he used to be a laughingstock in the Chicago Police Department for caring about animals. That was before FBI profiles began showing that the torture of animals is usually a first step for sociopaths on the road to torturing and murdering humans. So is Vick a sociopath, or just a misguided young man, who also smuggled (allegedly) dope onto a plane last January?

Still, as Rick Morrissey in the Chicago Tribune and Errol Louis in the New York Post both pointed out, there's a collective yawn when NFL stars abuse women. Guys do these things, let's not get derailed from a cheer and a beer. "Three years ago Michael Pittman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced assault charges after his fourth domestic-violence arrest," Louis wrote on August 23. "He'd rammed his Hummer into a car carrying his wife and infant son and their son's baby-sitter. The penalty was a three-game suspension. Lionel Gates, another Bucs player, was arrested and charged with beating a pregnant woman. The team made him take an anger-management course. Lamar Thomas, a former Miami Dolphins player, smashed his pregnant fiancée's head through a window. He was allowed to keep playing."
Adds Louis, "It's not just a football thing. Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club allegedly dragged his wife around by the hair on a public street. The team gave him a paid leave of absence. Bobby Chouinard of the Colorado Rockies was sentenced to a year in jail for holding a loaded pistol to his wife's head - but was allowed to serve the penalty three months at a time. During the off-season."

I listened on Saturday to WaitWait Don't Tell Me--the NPR news quiz, which I also enjoy, along with football. Bob Saget was a guest contestant. Talking about one movie, in response to a question from Peter Segal, he said, "The hookers were played by actresses, which means they were played by real hookers." Everyone laughed and applauded. Is that the difference in how we view the abuse of dogs and the abuse of women? Dogs are real, important--women are just hookers?

Okay, now I'm starting to feel just plain stupid.

by Sara Paretsky

Monday, August 27, 2007

What I Learned from Blogging

by Barbara D'Amato

I’ve learned respect for columnists. Wow! Serious respect for columnists! We have seven bloggers in The Outfit, and there is a new blog every other day, which means each of us is up to bat once every two weeks. I can hardly imagine writing a column once a week, much less having a daily column. I salute all who can do it.

I’ve learned a lot about myself. Being forced to spell out how I feel about a current event or a long-term issue brings me face-to-face with myself.

Quite frequently I blog about issues I am of two minds about—pornography, or the drug laws, for example. Sometimes this helps resolve my thinking. The responses help, too, and they are always interesting. I learn a lot from them.

Before I started blogging–at Libby’s request–I’d heard both positive and negatives takes on it.

“It’ll take time from your writing.” Well, so does dinner.

“There are too many blogs.” Sure. I’ve also heard many times that there are too many books. I was a judge for the Mystery Writers of America 2006 Best Novel Award. We received approximately 550 books. Yup—five hundred and fifty. These are books published for the first time in calendar 2006, in English, not including first novels and paperback originals, which go to different committees. So there are lots of books and lots of blogs in the world. There are several blogs I dip into. To me the many offerings mean lots of richness.

“Blogs don’t sell books.” People say this to writers who participate in blogging, assuming they do it just to sell books. Well, yes, we all hope. And who knows whether blogs help? I don’t know. But I’ve gone farther for less and meanwhile this is fun.

And that’s the bottom line. The fun of it. The best part has been getting to know my blogmates. I had known Sara, Libby, and Michael for years and had read all their books, but this blog business is different. You “meet” a person by reading his or her books, of course, but a book is a specific, constructed, enclosed piece. I’ve been delighted to see their range of ideas and reactions to current events as we’ve blogged along. And Kevin, Sean, and Marcus, whom I did not know before this, have quite truly enriched my life. They are all over the lot, in the best way—always smart, surprising and always expanding my awareness of things.

If I had one piece of advice to give other bloggers, it’s don’t blog alone. This team is great. Blogging alone must be like trying to square-dance by yourself.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Union Made in the USA . . .

by Sean Chercover

I am not a Democrat, nor am I a Republican; I’ve always been a registered Independent voter. I’ve voted for Democratic candidates, Republican candidates, and even Natural Law Party candidates (it seemed like the funniest option at the time).

I worked briefly as a volunteer on H. Ross Perot’s campaign, partly because it was a funny thing to do, but mostly because I was sick of the Republicrat either/or con game.

I’m still sick of the con game. I’m more convinced than ever that Washington is corrupt to its core, and that our brand of two-party politics is a scam. I seriously doubt that it is fixable, and all evidence suggests that the majority of Americans don’t even want it fixed.

But in this next federal election, I’m backing a candidate anyway. Not because I believe that he will make everything better, but simply because things have gone way too far and we are in danger of slipping off the deep end into our own Orwellian nightmare (if we haven’t already passed the point of no return).

Illinois senator Barack Obama is my candidate. I don’t agree with all of his positions, but that’s neither here nor there; I don’t agree with all of the positions of any of the candidates, from either party. And there’s still plenty of time for Obama to do or say something that will make me regret my choice. But unless and until that happens, I’m an Obama girl. I even have an Obama baseball cap and t-shirt and bumper sticker on my aging Chevy Malibu.

The good news is that both the baseball cap and the t-shirt are union made in the USA. The bad news is, they suck. I mean, they really and truly suck. The seams are all over the goddamn place, there are loose threads and haphazard stitching, the cap’s button is way off-center . . . etc.

I have ball caps and t-shirts made by exploited children in Bangladesh, others made by slave prison labor in China. And by far, the worst quality cap and shirt I now own are Union Made in the USA. And this distresses the hell out of me.

I do not expect American-made products to compete on price. I’m happy to pay a couple bucks more for a cap made in the USA by a union member making a fair living wage. In fact, I actively seek out such products.

No, I don’t expect us to compete on price. But if we can’t compete on quality, we are totally screwed.

Jesus, I’m a cheery bastard today. If anyone has anything optimistic to say about American manufacturing or politics, I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime: Go Cubs! Go Bears! Go Obama!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


To be a writer is to be an outsider, never 100% part of the group, always watching, weighing, thinking 'how does this read as a scene?’ To be a writer is to be objective for the most part—if you want your fiction to be believable, your non-fiction to be taken seriously. To be a writer is to be a scavenger, letting nothing pass, go, disappear or die.

I remember reading something once, by another writer--can't remember his (her?) name—about how he'd stopped writing. He'd become appalled by the way he was using everything, every fight, every joy, every tragedy in his life. He'd come to find he didn't like himself, come to think of himself as some kind of scavenger or vampire or parasite--I don't remember exactly. But that's the gist.

I don't feel that way. Learning to write gave me—for the first time in my life—some purpose for the obsessive habit I’ve had since childhood of standing outside myself and observing—my own feelings and ideas as well as other people's. Learning to write put my habit of analyzing every encounter and social exchange to good use. As a child, I thought I was abnormal in these traits—and I was. But as I discovered other artists, I found that this abnormality is ubiquitous.

That’s my take anyway. Are you a professional voyeur? Does it ever make you feel guilty?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

In Case Newsweek Lost My Number

by Marcus Sakey

My wife is a Newsweek junkie, and turned me on to a new sidebar they've been running. It's called "A Life in Books," and involves asking famous authors about the five books most important to them, which 'Certified Important' book they haven't read, and a classic that disappointed upon revisiting. It's an addictive little addition, and to my delight, they've been picking authors from all genres: one week Elmore Leonard, the next Jonathan Safran Foer. Some try too hard to prove how smart they are, picking obscure texts in the original German; some try too hard to be funny, going for the laugh instead of the truth. But by and large, you get an interesting peek at the reading habits of a pro.

As one of my favorite guilty pleasures is snooping people's bookcases, this is custom-designed for me. Unfortunately, I'm guessing that Newsweek probably has a few people on their list before they get to me. And as I was born without the patience gene, I decided hell with them; this is what the Outfit is for.

Thus, I present to you the Marcus Sakey version of "A Life in Books," a la Newsweek. I'm hoping some of you guys will post your own versions as well.


CLOUD ATLAS, David Mitchell.
A virtuosic piece of writing singing a heartbreaking story about life and time and hope and the way things move in a circle. My personal favorite book.

NEUROMANCER, William Gibson.
Not just a fantastic read, but also a textbook for how to write. I learn a new technique every time I read it.

THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pretty much the great American novel of its day. The best part is the way Fitzgerald makes everybody, even the reader, culpable.

A fever dream. McCarthy throws away more brilliance in offhand passages than most people can pack into a whole novel. It's challenging, and there's plenty I'd hate to have to explain in front of the class, but it's worth the effort.

CAT'S CRADLE, Kurt Vonnegut
A comedy pretending to be a drama pretending to be a comedy, and a profound and empathetic portrait of humanity. Part of Vonnegut's charm is that he expects people to fuck everything up but loves them anyway.

A Certified Important Book you still haven't read:

MOBY DICK, Melville
I actually made it about 200 pages and then lost steam. But I'm going back to it someday.

A classic that, upon rereading, disappointed:

I liked it fine, but didn't think it came anywhere close to living up to the accolades. Plus, to me, the philosophical issues seemed like three a.m. dorm room debates, and just about as deep.

Having done it, I have to say, it's a pretty interesting exercise. Cutting the list to five books is brutal--it's hard not to go for type, like you're mixing all five to create a composite of the stuff you like.

Which, looking at my list, would be one hell of a strange novel.

Your turn. Pretend Newsweek is calling. Tell me about your life in books.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Lighter Side of Crime

by Libby Hellmann

They’re the dog days of summer, but don’t let them fool you. Crime stops for nobody and nothing… especially in Chicago. However, in keeping with the season, when all we want is something fresh and cool and light, following are a few noteworthy items.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Joey (The Clown) Lombardo was cross-examined in the Family Secrets trial this week. Once one of the Outfit’s most notorious members, and possibly its boss, he said he’d never joined the mob. He never killed anyone either, and on the day a murder he allegedly committed took place, he was at the police station, reporting a stolen wallet. About a threatening phone call he once made, he was just trying to act like “Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson in all those gangster movies.” No wonder they call him the Clown.

Come Up and See Me Sometime
A new book about the Everleigh sisters has just been published, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Sin In The Second City by Karen Abbott chronicles the story of the enterprising sisters, Ava and Minna Everleigh, who built and maintained the most luxurious brothel in Chicago (on South Dearborn) at the turn of the last century. Gourmet meals, themed bedrooms, even solid gold spittoons elevated the brothel into a welcoming place that hosted clients like Theodore Dreiser and Prince Henry of Prussia. The sisters, determined to make theirs the best little whorehouse, apparently researched brothels all over the country to learn the business. Apparently, they learned well – when the sisters retired, they had $1 million in cash, the equivalent of $20 million today.

Those Pesky Self-Help Programs
From the Tribune comes the story of an out-of-control gambler who voluntarily enrolled in an Illinois program that banned him from visiting casinos. A few years later, he decided he was cured and went back to a casino in Elgin. After winning over $20,000, he marched up to the window to cash in, but casino officials, citing his enrollment in the state program, seized his winnings and arrested him for trespassing.

Police State in Skokie
And for the irony of the week….Skokie, a northern suburb of Chicago, perhaps best known for its diverse population, especially Holocaust survivors, just completed its “International Youth Police Academy.” Specifically targeted for teenage immigrants, the week long course taught youngsters all about American law enforcement. The highlight of the program: kids aimed radar guns at speeding motorists.

What about you? Any interesting stories from your neck of the woods ?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

One Of These Days I'll Chase You Down

By Kevin Guilfoile

The first thing that hit me sideways was the phrase "professional internet gambler."

If you're a crime buff there are few things that can become more obsessive than a real-life mystery in progress and we have one in Chicago right now. This week there was a huge break in a well-known local murder investigation and although details are sketchy and weird at this point, those few details don't add up at all. And I suspect that when the truth is known the story is going to get weirder. And more interesting.

Last October the body of 64-year-old dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet was discovered by his daughter in his 12th-story Michigan Avenue office, just across the street from Millennium Park. Cornbleet had been bound, gagged, and stabbed over twenty times. Surveillance video showed what appeared to be a young man entering the building just before the killing and leaving just after. In both instances he seemed to be hiding his face. A witness who rode the elevator with the suspect back down to the street reported that he had injured his nose and had blood on his sweatshirt, as if he had been in some sort of struggle.

The video ran for several days on Chicago television. Promising leads turned cold. The victim's family raised money for a reward and Dr. Cornbleet's son, Jon, created a MySpace page for soliciting tips from younger people--perhaps the killer's peers--who might not follow the mainstream media.

In June, apparently in part from leads developed on the internet, a 29-year-old New York resident and "professional internet gambler" named Hans Peterson (left in high school photo) became a "person of interest." DNA in Peterson's New York apartment was compared to DNA left behind at the crime scene. Two months after the murder, Peterson apparently had fled to the island of St. Martin where he applied for and received French citizenship. Last week, he turned himself in to St. Martin authorities, claiming that he committed the murder because five years ago Dr. Cornbleet had prescribed some acne medication that Peterson believed had made him impotent.

Because the French will not extradite their citizens in capital cases, bringing Peterson to Chicago for trial has suddenly become complicated.

Obviously there are many holes in this story which will be filled in the coming weeks and months. And I suspect that some of the "facts" as we currently know them will turn out to be untrue. But the bones of this story--New York internet gambler seeks acne treatment in Chicago, has bad reaction, then five years later returns to savagely murder the doctor who wrote the prescription--just won't stand up on their own, especially when you compare the complete irrationality of the act to the cold calculation of applying for foreign citizenship in order to avoid prosecution in the United States.

The local TV stations have been all over this story. The Tribune put news of the confession on Page 3 of Metro, probably because they know so little about Peterson and what they know is somewhat dubious. The Sun-Times seems to be giving it a little more wood with no more information. There are skilled reporters working the beat, however, and my gut tells me this story is going to blow up into front page weirdness in the coming days.

And although I will almost always put my money on professional reporters having the edge over internet gossips, this story might turn out to be an exception. Hans Peterson has friends. Some of his friends must know his story. Some of those friends no doubt have blogs.

I'm not making any predictions, but this could be the kind of halfway-under-the-radar tale the internet was born for.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"I'm so glad I'm a Beta"

Brave New World, where all the babies come from test tubes, and the oxygen to their embryonic brains is carefully calibrated so that the majority will be happy doing the service jobs that make life easy for the few Alphas, who get all the brains and all the perks. The children in their color-coded uniforms say in unison, "I'm so happy I'm a Beta," or Delta, or Epsilon.

We can 't do that here: that would be genetic engineering, which is immoral, unchristian. We have to create our Deltas and Epsilons the old-fashioned way, by depriving them of words and thought. Welcome to No-Child-Left-Behind World.

I had a long and troubling e-mail from Pat Robinson, who has taught high school English for 15 years in Meeker, Colorado. Her job has been eliminated because she taught English by having her students read novels. No longer. Meeker wants its little Deltas and Epsilons to be happy members of the service world--they'll fight our wars, flip our burgers, make our beds. We can't have them reading, reflecting, thinking about the world they're growing up in. No English class in Meeker can include literature: that distracts the students from test-taking.

Pat says: This "is the Enron of education where we hiding the lack of knowledge behind good test scores. It is the easy fix of diet pills that loosing weight is good whatever the cost to the body. It is a disaster. The private schools will flourish and people with money will see that their children get a good education. I started in inner city San Diego and moved to rural Colorado with one driving force: to teach students (who may not have the wealthy background) to be great people and real students. I have been successful and have many awards but now test scores are all that count."

She adds that there are eight topics English teachers will be allowed to cover, and that reading will be limited to one-or two-page extracts which students read over and over--thus guaranteeing that they will not be interested in the written word. But they don't need the written word to go to Iraq, or McDonalds: they can be happy Deltas with their minimum wage jobs and no health insurance.

You and I don't need soldiers, we need readers. What can we do as writers, as important leaders in the culture of this world, to save kids in Meeker and elsewhere.

by Sara Paretsky

P.S. If you want to read Pat's full letter, e-mail me and I will forward it to you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Can't We All Get Along?

By Barbara D’Amato

This week, on one of the mystery lists, I came upon an extremely hostile reviewlet of a new crime novel. It brought back thoughts of a specific type of comment about books that has puzzled me for years.

I’m not talking about negative reviews. They’re legitimate. A good reviewer is able to say, “This isn’t my favorite kind of novel, but it’s a good example of its type.” I’m talking about the comment in which the reader or reviewer is angry that such a book even exists.

It would be understandable if the reader were upset that a book dissed his religion or ethnicity. It’s even reasonable to have a distaste for a book that appears to the reader to be gratuitously bloody or cruel -- although in those cases I would say just don’t read it. But these, oddly enough, are stylistic objections.

Intentionally, I am not going to quote from any of these diatribes, nor name names or publications. It seems unprofessional to leave out all the proof of what I’m saying, but I’d rather not add to the back-and-forth. And anyway, we’ve all read some of them, haven’t we?

It’s not the writers who come up with these angry blasts. Virtually all the writers I know are supportive of other writers. They know how hard it is to write a book, and they are appreciative of others who do it, even the book isn’t what they like to read.

These are readers who are outraged that noir, or chicklit, or whatever they can’t stand, even gets published. They are outraged when a fast-paced adventure novel is low on characterization. Or they are furious that a chicklit book may be “light.” Or they can’t stand it that a traditional puzzle mystery is more intellectual than emotional. Hello? What were you expecting?

A sentence from the 60s comes to mind. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

If books had misleading cover descriptions, so that you paid money for an updated Rambo and got a knitting boutique, anger might be understandable. But mostly that isn’t the case, and, in addition, a lot of the outrage comes from reviewers and critics who get advance reading copies free.

What in the world triggers this anger? Maybe it comes from fear of the foreign, a kind of xenophobia: how can any person be so different from me as to enjoy this book?

I’d be interested in your thinking.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

There's Something About Harry

by Marcus Sakey

Fourteen million. That's how many copies of the new Harry Potter were printed. Actually, Scholastic started at 12 million, but within ten days of the book's release went back for two million more.

Two million more.

It's become fashionable to roll your eyes at the series, but I can't go with that. I'm not a fan, either. I've read a couple of the books, and liked them fine. She's a wonderful fantasist and has a lovely touch with the characters. Overall, though, my hair remained forward and my socks stayed on.

Obviously, I'm in the minority. 14,000,000 copies.

Which has me wondering — and I really want to know — what is it about these books that so grabs people? The appeal transcends age, gender, and sophistication. People who read a book a year love 'em; people who read a book a week love 'em. People who don't read fantasy love 'em. People who hate children love 'em.

Is it the universe? The fantasy of empowerment? The fight against ultimate evil? The camaraderie of the characters? A wish for magic? An identification with the misfit kid in all of us? What has drawn so many people into this series, and held their attention through something like 6,000 pages?

I'd really like to know. Partly out of curiosity, and partly because I intend to let the answers inform my own writing. Whatever she's doing, it works, and it's worth learning from.

So those of you who love the series, can you explain what it is that moves you? And while we're at it, you eye-rollers out there, what bugs you?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

So when’s the next book coming out?

by Michael Dymmoch

When I quit my day job, I thought writing a novel a year would be a breeze. After all, in thirteen years I’d written eight books, two screenplays, and a dozen short stories while working a forty hour week, raising a kid, and managing a house in the suburbs.


I’m lucky to have a huge family, so some of my new “writing time” vanishes when my sisters (who live in Colorado and Georgia) call to ask, “Are you up for a visit?” or my son says, “How ‘bout hitting Lou’s for a pizza?” or my niece decides to get married—you get the idea. And I rarely turn down a friend who wants to "do lunch" or meet for dinner.

Somehow my two-bedroom condo (single parking space, closet-sized storage) takes more time to maintain than did my three bedroom house (with garage, garden and shed). Recycling in the suburbs took ten minutes a week—just drop it in the bin, put the bin out on recycling day. Here in the city, recycling takes dedication (unless you believe that moonshine about the Blue Bag program). We have a designated recycling dumpster in my building, but volunteers have to remove the garbage that illiterates throw in. (Guess who volunteers?) And clothing, books, and tech trash have to be delivered to other locations.

Other tasks that seem trivial soak up hours—cleaning the junk out of your spam filter, for instance, answering e-mails, looking up facts. The internet makes it faster. And slower, since there are more avenues down which to get side-tracked.

Distractions in Chicago are myriad. Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” at the Art Institute, “Darwin” at the Field, free music and movies in Grant Park, and fairs and festivals all over the city, all summer long. Even just going downtown for a vehicle sticker can lure you into sight-seeing or people watching. It’s research. Right?

Since I retired, I’ve managed to join two more writer’s group, which requires that I do more writing, though not novels. One of the groups does screenplays; I get help with my scripts, but I have to reciprocate. Watching a movie takes two hours, covering the script for a two-hour movie a day.

Reading a MS for a friend is usually a treat. But for a compulsive editor like myself, it means twice as many hours as just reading a copy-edited, published work. You can’t fairly put “This isn’t working for me,” in the margin without at least suggesting why. And you don’t want to say “the Berwyn El stop isn’t in Roger’s Park” unless you’ve checked the Roger’s Park boundaries.

I have a book coming out in April (MIA, St Martin’s Press, ISBN 10: 0-312-37371-6). It’s done, right? St. Martin’s sent the check. But there’s the copy-edit to deal with. (God bless those nameless wonders who know that Nike’s weren’t available in 1968.) And soon I’ll have to plug the book. Publicity involves going to mystery conferences and conventions (four, so far this year, two more scheduled). They’re fun, but time consuming. So are book signings. And library appearances.

Since I write police procedurals, I couldn’t pass up the Sisters in Crime Forensic University program in St Louis this November, including the side trip to the gun range. And I just discovered there’s a symposium on criminal history record checks being offered in Springfield in September. And tomorrow, there’s an interesting murder trial at 26th and Cal...

Speaking of plugging... Come meet the Outfit

Tuesday, August 7,
6:00 p.m.

Cindy Pritzker Auditorium (lower level)
400 S. State Street, Chicago

We’ll have door prizes, and a book signing after the program.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Mouse and The Bean . . .

by Sean Chercover

Today I was Mr. Mom. First thing this morning, we dropped Agent 99 off at her meeting and then we headed toward the lake, with The Mouse chattering baby chatter in his rear-facing baby seat. The Mouse is just shy of his first birthday, and his seat will soon face forward. A significant milestone - for me, if not for both of us.

We cruised east on North (which is less complicated than it sounds) and passed the Old Town Ale House, without stopping. The Old Town Ale House is one of my favorite bars in Chicago. It caters to newspaper reporters and aging hippies, and is a borderline-dive. Or was, before being “discovered” by the twenty-something hipsters. Hence the recent face-lift, which makes me nostalgic for the way it was before. Anyway, it still has one of the best jukeboxes in the city, and I still love the place.

But it was only 8:45, so the place hadn’t opened yet. And at 11 months, The Mouse is probably still a little too young for the place. Instead, I took him to a diner that I choose not to name, for fear that it will be “discovered” by the twenty-something hipsters and I won’t be able to get a table next time. At the diner, I got a little food down, while The Mouse tossed scrambled eggs and cantaloupe all over the floor. I left a big tip.

Then we found a relatively inexpensive garage near Navy Pier.

Now, those of you who know me know that I don’t do places like Navy Pier. I don’t do tourist traps and I don’t do national chain corporate food-factories. I do locally owned mom & pop restaurants and smoky dive-bars.

But here I was, with a diaper bag slung over my shoulder, pushing a stroller past Navy Pier, surrounded by tourists. I didn’t smell of tobacco, I was stone cold sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.

And now I’m looking at Chicago through the eyes of an 11-month-old boy. We cross the Chicago River (Wow! A river surrounded by really tall buildings!), pass a million boats (boats are big fun!) and come face-to-beak with a large gaggle of Canada geese. Of course we love to wave at the geese. The geese make us giggle.

We cross the walking bridge designed by Frank Gehry and check out his Pritzker Pavillion. Gehry is one of my favorite architects, and I’m pleased that The Mouse seems to dig the surroundings.

Then comes The Bean. The Bean has a proper name (Cloud Gate) but the nickname that Chicagoans prefer seems more fitting. The Bean is a giant, stainless steel bean, polished to a highly reflective gloss.

And The Mouse LOVES The Bean. Loves it. He peals with laughter as we run up to The Bean, reaching out toward our distorted reflections. We’ve abandoned the stroller to get right up close, and we stay for a long time, examining The Bean and encountering ourselves from many angles.

We spend a little time at the Crown Fountains, which may not be quite as cool as The Bean, but are fun, and offer the added benefit of spraying us with water on a 95-degree day.

Finally, we head to Navy Pier. Yes, Navy Pier is a tourist trap, and I never recommend it to visitors who want to see the “real” Chicago. But babies don’t care much about real and unreal Chicago. As it turns out, babies enjoy the atrium with palm trees and the world’s biggest ceiling fan, and the groovy water fountains, and a carousel with painted horses and rabbits and lions and calliope music.

So, maybe I’m getting soft. I’ll still do my drinking in dives and avoid most of the corporate and homogenized “new Chicago”.

But The Mouse and I had one hell of a great day.