Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the leg while hunting shark. Carl Sandburg wrote a wonderfully evocative poem of “We the people.” Nelson Algren won the first ever National Book Award with The Man with the Golden Arm. Meanwhile the fictional Amos Jansen lived and worked in a literary society in 1930s Chicago, till his boss was murdered. After that, where the money will come for the rent seems almost as important as who-dun-it, and a truly fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable tale ensues.
The era, people and place all come to life in James Conroy’s literary mystery, Literally Dead, from the treatment of Hemingway’s dysentery and the fight for employees’ rights. The voices of old movies sound in the ear from pitch-perfect dialog. Dark streets, corrupt police, madly rushing cars, and gambling joints distract the eye. Politics and corruption seem sadly contemporary, and the main character’s musings evoke an honest sympathy for unions and the call to social justice.
Particularly impressive is the way the author avoids any semblance of delivering a message while powerfully evoking an era where message was needed. The lives of these characters seem real and true, and form a convincing background to those famous depression-era writers. Plus there’s a mystery with convincing red herrings, plot and counterplot, dark murder and cover-up.
Literally Dead is a literary mystery of the Depression, smoothly written, easily read, and deeply intriguing, historically, sociologically and literarily.
Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this book from the publisher, Knox Robinson, in exchange for my honest review.