The depth and diversity of Chicago's literary community sits on my desk, in the form of many piles of books that have arrived with encouraging frequency. Here is what's in one of those piles:
The Taylor Street File of Red Cin by JoBe Cerny, Cerny/American Creative, 342 pages, $17.50 paperback. This is the first novel by JoBe Cerny, part of an ambitious quartet of Chicago-based mysteries featuring a pair of private eyes named Frankie Turk and Lola Lahti, once married, now divorced but still living together. They are former cops suspended as a result of … well, "We both have anger management issues and short fuses," Turk says. They drive around in a 1970 Oldsmobile with a "two-body trunk in case we ever have to use it for such purposes," and they "are not heroes by nature, and we always like to see what is waiting for us when we enter an alley by night." There has, of course, been a murder, that of the owner of Club Red, and the private eyes are dealing with his young widow Cin, as in "short for Cinnamon." The dialogue is snappy, the characters — good and bad — appealing, the story full of humor, as exemplified by this jacket notation: "No real criminals were murdered or maimed in the writing of this novel." Cerny has had a fine, ongoing career as a successful actor/producer/director, as well as being the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. He can now call himself a crime novelist.
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10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders by Al Gini and Ronald M. Green, Wiley-Blackwell, 209 pages, $24.95 paperback. Al Gini is a smart man, a professor at Loyola University Chicago, and so his latest book, written in collaboration with Dartmouth College professor Ronald M. Green, contains erudite sentences such as, "Some misleaders are simply pathetic egocentric scoundrels or selfishly vain adolescent narcissists, full of bluster and pomposity, who enjoy a bright moment and then are quickly and happily forgotten or dismissed." They use as examples of "misleaders" such folks as Rod Blagojevich, and you all know what he did. It would be unfair to divulge their 10 virtues, so here are three: moral courage, fairness, good timing. The authors use all manner of examples to bolster their cause. They acknowledge that "Leadership is one of the most written about topics," knowing that they bring something fresh to the table. They put the arm on, so to speak, other smart people to help "provide a useful tool for enhancing excellence in organizations." So you hear from such people as Sophocles, Steve Jobs, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Aristotle and Winston Churchill. The authors bring decades of learning and scholarship to this book. Light on the academic jargon, the book they have produced is a surprisingly pleasurable and informative package.
Bottom Line by Marc Davis, Permanent, 248 pages, $28. Marc Davis is a fine writer, and I say that not only because he was once a newspaperman. I say it because he can write sentences such as these from his new novel: "In the early afternoon, I saw an image of a solitary firefighter on the screen, a monochromatic, ash-gray figure sitting on the running board of a fire truck. He sat slumped, bent over, his body seemingly weighed down by the burden of what he had seen and done, his face carved with ravines of exhaustion, grief and mourning." He calls his novel a "business noir," and the shenanigans are serious and so plain-spokenly detailed that even those of us who can't balance a checkbook will be swept up in the action. Financial crimes may not be as bloody as street gang warfare, but the thugs in the boardrooms are a nasty bunch, and Davis does a fine job of grasping their arrogance and venality. Here is one of his leading characters, CEO Adrian Martell ("sixty-something, six foot two, imperious, robust."), chillingly defining his wicked world: "Money is a mood altering drug. Once you're hooked it's forever. You can't kick it, there's no rehab, no Cashaholics Anonymous. You get the yen, then the yen gets you. Once addicted, always addicted."
Witch's Moon by Ralph E. Horner, Wings, 280 pages, $16.95 paperback. Ralph Horner's previous novel, "Tandem Tryst," took readers back to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 to good and engaging effect. "Witch's Moon" goes back even further, to 1680 to be precise, a time of fearsome "witches." One of those, Diehla Thorne, puts a curse on the family of Judge Jeremiah Hillery, who has sentenced her to be burned at the stake. The curse? Basically that "accidents, diseases, even murders" would plague Hillery's descendants forever, and they would have one "thing in common, not one of them lived to the ripe old age of forty. Not even one, for three centuries." That news comes from 1980 and a relatively young fellow (he's 25) named Joe Hillery, who knows his inevitable fate. But he gets a chance to end the curse by traveling back three hundred years and touching a witch's ring. I have never been a fan of Gothic novels, and time travel leaves me cold, but Horner is so obviously enjoying himself on these pages — "She reminded him of a Siamese cat. … Her large bewitching eyes held him as she spoke" — that he provides a satisfyingly spooky trip.
Rick Kogan is a Tribune senior writer and columnist.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun