Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Sam Reaves' Homicide 69

Shots ezine are delighted to feature a guest blog from the Chicago based thriller writer Sam Reaves, who many of you know as Dominic Martell.

Books emerge when they’re ready, and they don’t always turn out to be the book you think they’re going to be. A case in point is my Homicide 69, which was published by Carroll and Graf in 2007 and which I’ve just released as an e-book.

The seed was planted in 1999, as my eye fell on the This Day in History feature in my local paper and I kept seeing reminders of things that had happened thirty years before: the moon landing, Woodstock, the Manson murders. I began to recall that crazy, far-away summer of 1969, which I had lived through as a wide-eyed teenager.  A lot of sensational things happened that summer—the Stones’ Brian Jones drowned, as did a young woman in Ted Kennedy’s car; Northern Ireland blew up and an obscure colonel with an unpronounceable name pulled off a coup in Libya. In the U.S. the cities were still smoldering from the race riots of the previous year. Looming over everything, the Vietnam war was at its height, as were the protests against it. American society was stressed and traumatized. 

It took a while for the seed to germinate; at the time I was writing European-based thrillers under my pseudonym Dominic Martell and focusing on the vast criminal empires emerging from the end of the Cold War. By 2002 I was writing about my home city of Chicago again, having developed an interest in our rich history of corruption and organized crime. That year I published Dooley’s Back, a tight little crime story set in contemporary Chicago involving an ex-cop taking on the mob.

And then the light bulb went on, as I remembered those thirty-year anniversaries popping up in the paper.  Suddenly I saw that summer of 1969 as the perfect stage for a great Chicago story.  I’d learned a lot about the history of the Chicago Outfit, as we call the descendants of the Capone mob, and I knew that the late sixties had been a critical period for organized crime in Chicago as well as for the country at large, as its dominance was being threatened by internal strife and growing federal power.

And there was my story. I already had my character; in Dooley’s Back I’d alluded to the deceased father of the title character, Frank Dooley. I’d called Frank’s father Michael and made him a crusty old-school copper, but honest, not something you always assumed about a cop in Chicago. Now I had a chance to tell his story, and through it the story of a generation and a city that had passed away.  In my new story I focused on Mike Dooley in the prime of his life, a hard-working homicide detective in the summer of 1969 with a fifteen-year-old son Frank at home and an older son Kevin in the Marines in Vietnam.

I had Mike Dooley investigate the murder of a young woman killed in early June, 1969.  It appears to be a sex killing, but when Dooley learns that the victim was a mobster’s girlfriend he starts to suspect there’s more to it than meets the eye. When a dubious confession is approved with unseemly haste by the brass, Dooley knows the whole thing stinks, and he will spend the rest of the turbulent summer, with the world apparently coming apart at the seams, trying to get at the truth behind the killing.

In writing the book I had the best consultant I could have asked for, a retired Chicago police detective named John DiMaggio, who insured that the depictions of late-sixties police work were accurate. Many of the cases Dooley takes on in the course of the summer are modeled on real ones; I spent two months at the Northwestern University library going through the newspapers from the summer of 1969, making notes that allowed me to superimpose a calendar of real-world events on the timeline of the novel. In addition I benefited from long conversations with a legendary Chicago law enforcement veteran named Arthur Bilek, who as an implacable anti-mob crusader had lived through the intrigues which, lightly fictionalized, form the core of the plot.

What emerged was a much bigger novel than I’d intended, superficially a police procedural but essentially the story of the life and times of Michael Dooley and a portrait of Chicago at a critical point in its history. It’s been praised as “great art” and “a hidden gem” by reviewers; I’ll say only that I think it’s a good Chicago story, a nostalgic snapshot of the late sixties and an accurate look at the unsung heroism of the overworked big-city homicide dick. Whatever it is, it’s been given new life in e-book form and readers will have a chance to judge for themselves.

More information available here Sam Reaves and if you’ve yet to explore his work, may we suggest downloading Homicide 69, available here from the Shots Bookstore, and here’s the background -

It's the summer of 1969, and Chicago police detective Mike Dooley has his hands full. An ex-Playboy bunny has been brutally murdered, and once Dooley finds out she was a mobster's girlfriend, he figures this is no mere sex killing. A mope coughs up a confession, but Dooley doesn't like the way the case is being stitched up. He's already got enough to worry about with a son in Vietnam and the usual spate of hot-weather killings, but he'll keep digging until he knows the truth, and not just because it brings him together with the smouldering beauty who was the victim's best friend. Meanwhile the world is changing around him, with the moon landing, Woodstock, the Manson murders and other apocalyptic craziness in the background. This one will push Dooley's personal and professional ethics to the limit.

Sam Reaves has written seven Chicago-based crime novels. As Dominic Martell he has penned a European-based suspense trilogy.  Reaves has traveled widely in Europe and the Middle East but has lived in the Chicago area most of his life.  He has worked as a teacher and a translator.

Author photo credit: Jessie Salter

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