This CRIMESCENE is investigated by
Patter Is Vital – And Deadly
If you love the great noir films of the 1940s, you know they’re driven by sharp, snappy dialogue, delivered at a machine-gun clip in the American vernacular. It’s called patter and James Lileks’ 40s-era who-dun-it, set in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, has it in spades. This isn’t your everyday patter – nor is it gaudy like a piece of fake jewelry. This is patter that can steal your best girl while lighting your Lucky with a snick of a Zippo. Patter like this can mix you the perfect Manhattan or carve out your liver with a switchblade. And it serves Lileks well in the telling of THE CASABLANCA TANGO, a body-strewn mystery that brings back the main characters of the author’s previous work, cigarette-mooching newspaper reporter Harry Holman and his sidekick photographer John Crosley, who is the narrator of this story. Both are combat veterans – Harry fought in the ETO, John in the Pacific. And their partnership is an obvious noir-ish nod to Holmes and Watson, with Crosley always two or three steps behind his brilliant buddy.
The action starts out with what looks like a mob hit on a union boss that leaves four dead in a bar called, you got it, The Casablanca. While everybody focuses on the union boss, there’s a girl among the dead that draws Harry’s attention. She has three lines drawn in blood across her forehead – and the game’s afoot. The boys are after a serial killer and dead women keep showing up with the killer’s telltale markings. Not only does Lileks tell a good, hard-boiled story, he recreates a historic Minneapolis rich and exacting in detail and a Citizen-Herald newsroom redolent with the sounds and smells only
someone who loves newspapers could capture. Which shouldn’t surprise anybody because Lileks is a long-time newspaper columnist who loves his town and is a serious student of architecture and cultural kitsch from the 30s through the 60s. He tells a bang-up mystery here with a surprise ending that will have you slapping your forehead because you won’t see it coming.