Thursday, August 19, 2010

Retro-Modern: A Review of Sauce for the Goose by Robert Campbell

Sauce for the Goose is a Jimmy Flannery Mystery by Robert Campbell.  Jimmy Flannery is a regular guy, not a private detective or a police officer.  He's got a good job,  working for the city (that would be Chicago) as an inspector for the Sewer Department.  He's also a precinct captain for the Democratic party and a committeeman for the Twenty-seventh Ward where he and his little family--wife, baby, and dog--live.  Jimmy's a busy guy, trying to make a better life for himself and his family; he even takes some classes (at his wife's urging: English grammar and political science), in the hopes that he can smooth out his rough edges for a future career in politics.  As he tells his story to us, Jimmy often corrects his own grammar and usage.  Hey, this guy pays attention in class.

There are plenty of interesting people in Jimmy's classes and, budding politician and student of human nature that he is, Jimmy takes note.  His grammar class is divided between immigrants with a range of mastery over the language, and people like himself, who are native speakers but want to better themselves.  Among the latter group is one  Jimmy recognizes as a disgraced cop with an interesting story (and an eye for the pretty teacher).  More surprising is one of his fellow students in the political science class (which is being taught by a lawyer with political ambition…this is Chicago, after all).  Vince Pastorelli is a guy who might be--well, probably is--associated with the local mob in a low-level kind of a way.  He spends most of class sleeping, so why in the world is he there? And why does he turn up dead one day, after following the teacher out of class.

Jimmy is a curious guy but, even more than that, he cares about people.  One thing leads to another and before he knows it he's trading favors and digging up secrets.  And helping, because one thing Jimmy Flannery never does is hurt anybody in this series which has its fair share of violence and ugliness but which is, ultimately, full of heart and hopefulness.

Robert Campbell has created a world which is both contemporary, set firmly and recognizably in the here and now (or the there and then of the early nineties when it was written) but at the same time feels like it could easily be coming to us from the pen of Ross Macdonald or one of his contemporaries.  Sauce for the Goose is an extremely satisfying read, which will send you in search of this prolific but hard-to-find author's other works.

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