Private detective Joe Kozmarski’s Chicago is a dark place where dead bodies turn up around every corner, and everyone has secrets that could turn deadly at any moment. Joe himself is far from uncomplicated: an ex-cop and a damaged soul, he’s hoping to reconcile with his estranged wife, He’s trying to maintain a friendly working relationship with his partner and former lover, Lucinda Juarez, another ex-cop. And he’s raising his eleven-year-old nephew as a single parent.
At the beginning of the novel, Kozmarski is doing the dirty work that pays the bills: staking out the cheating wife of a mild-mannered bookkeeper, Greg Samuelson. Suddenly, Samuelson himself appears, sets fire to his wife’s lover’s car, and strolls away. Later when Kozmarski tries to confront his client, he arrives to find Samuelson missing his face, and Samuelson’s boss lying dead on the floor of her office. For the police, the explanation is simple: Samuelson killed her and then tried to kill himself. Kozmarski isn’t so sure.
Samuelson’s boss, Sister Judy Terrano, is better known as the Virginity Nun, a woman revered for her chastity program aimed at teenagers. So why are the words “Bad Kitty” written on the dead nun’s stomach? And why are a rich Chicago family and a gang led by an aging radical so interested in keeping Kozmarski in line? And why do they all lead back to a club from the 1960’s where young people gathered to hang out and have sex?
Michael Wiley, nominated for a Shamus award for the first novel in this series, The Last Striptease, has a style reminiscent of earlier hard-boiled detective novels. Kozmarski is world-weary and cynical. He’s not surprised by any bad thing that happens to him, and a lot of bad things happen to him. Kozmarski lives in a Chicago as alien as another planet—definitely not the friendly city of baseball and pizza that tourists know.
Wiley has a good eye for description: a police officer is “thin and had a wisp of a goatee, a mustache, and wire-rimmed glasses. He’d parted his receding red hair in the middle. He looked like a librarian in a bullet-proof vest.” When Kozmarski looks in the mirror, “A fiend stared back. Eyes that had seen fire. A face that had felt blunt metal. Lips that had kissed an oily carpet like it was a breast. I tilted the mirror away.”
Readers who like their mysteries dark and unsentimental will enjoy The Bad Kitty Lounge. As Kozmarski delves deeper into the past and comes closer to trouble himself, the novel becomes impossible to put down even as the body count continues to rise.
Michael Wiley will appear at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville on March 12 at 2 p.m.