Dark Hearts of Chicago

Review. May 3, 2007.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect of Dark Hearts of Chicago. Various blurbs had referred to it as a mystery or thriller, and neither of those genres I read much of. Nor was I particularly familiar with the setting: Chicago during the World's Fair in 1893.

Dark Hearts of Chicago is certainly a mystery, although not—precisely—about a murder. It is an intense book, and fast-moving; my pattern of reading it was three or ten chapters in quick succession, then a day or days when I didn't read further, but found the characters and situtations very present in my thoughts. The setting is dark and compelling, and the characters—of which there are many—distinctive.

There are two main characters, three or four almost as significant characters, and an array of characters more or less important to the story or present in the background; some of these drifted into the story and out again, not always in a satisfying manner.

The novel takes place over 12 days, but is utterly packed with events, introspection, mysteries, and discoveries. The title and cover imagery are revealed to be very relevant to the story. The chapters were short. (They had chapter titles, often single word, which didn't work for me; I find chapter titles out of place in most books beyond children's books.) Different chapters focus on different characters; all are third-person, but most are essentially from a particular character's point of view. A final section (Aftermath) skims over the future of various characters, and of Chicago itself; this is more formal in tone.

The whole of Dark Hearts of Chicago has a distinct voice, with similarities to that of Horwood's other writings, but decidedly not the same. There is a lot of detailed historical and background information, which I take to be from Helen Rappaport's influence as co-author. I found some of this a bit densely packed, and at times wasn't sure what I should be paying attention to as important to the story and what (such as the names of people in a crowd) was simply background color. I am sure that this detail added to the vividness of the places and events described.

I was left with one unaswered question at the end, but I assume I somehow missed the answer rather than that it was not provided.

Overall, Dark Hearts of Chicago is an absorbing read with memorable situations and characters.

— Katherine Delany
Thursday, May 3, 2007

My copy is an uncorrected proof; it's unlikely that any of the errors I noticed are in the final published book. There were many distracting typographical errors: missing or inappropriate commas, extra quotation marks, and even paragraphs started in the middle of a sentence. There were also a handful of errors with dates and with amounts of money. My understanding is that significant corrections were made after this proof stage.

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