Chicago, May 30, 1956: On a quiet corner in a working-class immigrant neighborhood, a heavy suitcase is discovered on the sidewalk late at night. Inside is the body of a young boy, naked and hacked into pieces.
Two hard-drinking Chicago detectives are assigned to the case: Hank Purcell, who still has flashbacks ten years after the Battle of the Bulge, and his partner Marvin Bondarowicz, a wise-cracking Jewish cop who loves trouble as much as he loves booze. Their investigation takes them through the dark streets of Chicago in search of an even darker secret—as more and more suitcases turn up.
Praise for Suitcase Charlie
Every detective has a case that haunts him. For the Chicago cops Hank Purcell and Marvin Bondarowicz, that would be the “dead kid in the suitcase” whose broken body epitomizes “some kind of evil that was one-of-a-kind, fresh and original down to its buttons.” In writing Suitcase Charlie, John Guzlowski was inspired by a true crime that horrified his city in 1955 and retains the power to shock us today. Even the hard-bitten police lieutenant in charge of the fictionalized case is shaken by the singular brutality of the unknown killer… The sheer cruelty of the case’s multiple murders demands coarse language, at which Guzlowski excels. But in describing the saintly Sisters of St. Joseph nuns who live near the murder scene as “tough broads, eyes like razors,” he lets us know that, back in the day, the city of Chicago was an all-around rough town.
Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times
Suitcase Charlie, a tough-as-rusty-nails police procedural by John Guzlowski, is set in Chicago in the spring of 1956 – when the radio is playing hits by Frank Sinatra and Chuck Berry, many citizens are smoking Chesterfields and Lucky Strikes, and “Dragnet” and “General Electric Theater” are TV favorites. In Mr. Guzlowski’s book, the “second city” is being terrorized by a series of child killings in which the small victims are drained of blood, dismembered and stuffed into luggage left in public spaces. Detective Hank Purcell… with his heavy-drinking partner Marvin Bondarowicz, scours the city in search of clues.
The duo visit the musty apartment of a reclusive language tutor, the elegant suite of a physicist in the employ of the U.S. government, and the shadowy ghetto lair of a brutal young hoodlum. Each environment seems spookier than the last in a narrative driven by lyrical anxiety. Little by little, Purcell – treading the blurred line between burnout and breakdown – perceives these sickening new crimes as the fruit of diseased notions and lingering hatreds from earlier decades and even centuries. “I thought all of that bad s__ would just disappear when the war ended,” Purcell tells his wife. “And it didn’t. It’s still here.”
Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal
John Guzlowski beautifully conjures up the seamy side of the allegedly innocent 1950s with a thrilling serial murder mystery featuring two boozehound detectives. Hank Purcell…and his Jewish partner, Marvin Bondarowicz, have been known to break the rules. Both men are survivors of the mean streets, appealing in their humorous repartee and in their willingness to seek justice, even if insubordination is part of their means to that end.
…The plot moves sure-footedly to a powerful and plausible conclusion. While the mystery and its resolution are powerful, the novel’s greatest attractions are the characterizations of the partners and the stunning evocation of time and place in a great American city. In important ways, Chicago is the main character, and Guzlowski gives it muscle, pulse and breath.
Philip K. Jason, Jewish Book Council
Chicago in 1956 is a tough town, but a boy’s dismembered body found stuffed in a suitcase shocks even the toughest detectives in Guzlowski’s novel. Hank Purcell and Marvin Bondarowicz are the detectives who catch the case… The detectives question witnesses and possible suspects, but when more bodies are found, their bosses and even Purcell wonder if they’ll ever catch the killer.
The author grew up in Chicago during the time of the novel, and it shows in his details of places, people, and the prejudices of the era. The author’s strongest asset is his dialogue; whether it’s the cops talking with each other or neighbors and crooks casually chatting, the talk always rings true… This vivid re-creation of a time and place may not be enough to make Chicago your kind of town.