David Hagerty

Crime Fiction Author

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Launch Day

They Tell Me You Are Cunning, the fourth book in my Duncan Cochrane mystery series, releases tomorrow, which means lots of updating online, to this website, Amazon, Goodreads, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.

Nowadays, authors behave more like social media darlings or wannabe influencers, trying to promote their name and face in as many places as they can.

To those of us born before the tech boom, and those whose instinct is not toward self-promotion/revelation, it’s a bit of a stretch.

Dirty Politics, Chicago Style

Last month saw the arrest of Alderman Ed Burke—who has served on Chicago’s City Council since I was a child—for extorting donations to his campaign. This is only the latest is a long history of corruption in Illinois, particularly in its major metropolis. Such shenanigans also create the backdrop for my four novels, which play on the Second City’s reputation for dirty politics.

As a primer, I’ll list some of the lowlights from the state’s history. This summation is far from comprehensive (with 50 aldermen in the city alone, many up to something, how could it be?) but it will give readers the Cliff Notes version.

First among them has to be Mayor Richard J. Daley, also known to locals as Da Mayor, Hizzonor, and simply Boss. For clarity’s sake, I have to acknowledge two things: Daley was never charged with any crime, and I’m referring here to the first Mayor Daley, not his son who succeeded him in office.

Daley is credited with perfecting a political machine that kept him in power for five terms. In truth, the Cook County Democratic party had controlled things since Anton Cermak took office in 1931, what is locally known as dynasticism. The Boys from Bridgeport (an Irish working-class neighborhood that nonetheless churned out five mayors in sixty years) controlled elections through many means. Among their favorite tricks were:

  • Four-legged voting (a friend from the party who accompanies you into the voting booth to ensure you pulled the right levers)
  • Hobo floto voto (those same partisans leading vagrants by one shaky hand to the polling stations)
  • Vote early, vote often (those not content to cast just one ballot)
  • Don’t let death disenfranchise you (those who are resurrected on election day)

The Machine was so called for its small army of patronage workers, precinct captains, and ward committeemen who dispensed favors to friends and meted out retribution to the disloyal. Every civil servant was expected to vote the ticket and to get their friends to do the same.

Some say that the Machine continues churning out victories to this day while others will tell you that the power of the Cook County Dems started to wane with Daley’s passing in 1977, resulting in the city’s first female and African-American mayors.

However, a grand jury report in 1982 found widespread instances of fraud, including vote buying, impersonation, and manipulation of ballots cast by the elderly and disabled.

Chicago is hardly alone in its corruption. Illinois’ state capitol has also produced more than its fair share of crooks, including four governors who’ve gone to prison in my lifetime. The distinction belongs to:

  • Rod Blagojevich, who tried to sell Barak Obama’s U.S. Senate seat after he was elected president.
  • George Ryan, who sold commercial driver’s licenses to unqualified truckers, including one who killed six children.
  • Dan Walker, who generously offered himself money from a savings and loan that he owned.
  • Otto Kerner, who was convicted of bribery, conspiracy, perjury and income-tax crimes (obviously, he was a busy man).

A few more of the major and petty offenders:

  • Dan Rostenkowski, who served 22 years in the U.S. House, including many as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which governs taxation, pleaded guilty to mail fraud.
  • Jess Jackson Jr. (son of the prominent preacher and one-time presidential candidate), who used campaign funds to buy $750,000 in goods for himself and his wife, including a Michael Jackson fedora and cashmere capes.
  • Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the U.S.House, for sexually abusing four boys who he coached in wrestling.

What breeds such contempt for democracy? In my stories, it’s less about greed or power than blind spots. We come to accept our own world view as correct because we cannot see any other. As a wise man once told me, everyone believes their own b.s.

To see more images of the guilty, go to my Pinterest pagefor infamous Illinois politicians.

The Thin Man, a Classic Caper

Over the weekend, my wife and I watched The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett’s comic final novel. What struck me most was not just how funny it was or how clever, but how modern it felt for having been made in 1934. In the midst of the Great Depression and Prohibition, it showed a tipsy, wealthy, crime-solving couple with nary a care in the world. Welcome relief from today’s woes as well.

Channeling Dead Blues Men

Today I had to write a blues song. The irony of this statement, coming from a suburban Californian, is intentional. Not only do I not listen to the blues, despite growing up in Chicago, I never entered a blues club (as the drinking age elevated to 21 during my youth). Nonetheless, for a story about an inebriate during Prohibition, I had to create the lyrics for a tune about Jamaican ginger, aka, the Jake.

Initially, I planned to use the lyrics from an actual blues song by some southerner from the era, but to my surprise, my editor at AHMM informed me that the song I liked remained under copyright. After an hour trying to track down the current owner of those rights, I gave up and decided to write my own.

Fortunately, I found plenty of examples. The beauty of the internet is that everything is available, including many things that should not be there because they are copyrighted. Regardless, there they were.

To simplify the task, I used my training as an English major to analyze the structure: rhyming couplets tending toward iambic pentameter. In fact, those songs I found most reminded me of poems by Langston Hughes.

Still, it felt odd to be counting the syllables of a song written by someone who sang from the heart, and probably never thought of his words in such a way. Ultimately, I found that if I used some of the words from the originals and filled in my own syntax, I could craft a passable imitation.

In case you’re curious, here it is:

Felt so thirsty, I couldn’t see

Needed some tipple to steady me

Bought a potion at the local drug

Instead it give me the limber leg

Boys, you better beware

Fore you end up in despair

That white ginger booze

Will give you the jake walk blues

Book 4 is Out of My Hands

Yesterday I turned in the draft of my fourth novel in the Duncan Cochrane series. Now it’s all in the hands of my editor, leaving me idle time as I await his comments. What’s next? Focus on short stories. Try to gel the story collection I’ve been working on for four years into a novel. Start another project. These interludes always feels like limbo, both uncomfortable and full of possibilities.

William Faulkner, Super Sleuth

Apparently, William Faulkner, winner of the Pulitzer and the Nobel, was a fan of mystery fiction, even composing a novel and a few shorties of his own in the genre, one of which was nominated for an award by Ellery Queen Magazine. If you read some of his most famous books, particularly A Rose for Emily and Absalom, Absalom!, you see the influence. Good counterpoint to all those snobs who think literary fiction exists on another plane from genre writing.

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