The Casablanca Tango

[Amazon Link]

This is the third novel I've read from Mr. James Lileks. I thought the first one was pretty meh. The second one I liked better. But I thought The Casablanca Tango was excellent, easily one of the best mysteries I've read in a while.

The official page says the book is "An answer to the question 'what if Holmes and Watson were hard-boiled characters?'". I didn't read that until after I finished the book, but that's exactly the comparison that occurred to me while reading it.

Holmes and Watson are (respectively) newspaper reporter Harry Holman and his photographer, John Crosley (who narrates). It is set in 1947 Minneapolis, centering around a mass murder at a downtown dive, the Casablanca Bar. Who were the actual targets, who were the innocent bystanders? What's the meaning of the three vertical lines etched in blood on the beautiful blonde now with a hole in her heart?

Harry and John get enough leeway from their boss to carry on their own investigation, uncovering corruption, perversion, and other sordid behaviors.

Lileks fans know that the author is a human time machine, sliding up and down the fourth dimension with ease, especially knowledgeable about the Mill City and environs. The actual 1947 mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, has a cameo, as does the amazing Washburn Park Water Tower in Tangletown.

The style is first-person hard-boiled, very reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. I've read a lot of wannabe-Chandlers, and its the kind of style that's very easy to do poorly. I can't remember anyone succeeding better than Lileks.

I sometimes cast the movie in my head when reading books. Probably because I'd just watched a bit of I Wake Up Screaming on the local old-movie channel, I saw Laird Cregar playing Harry. About time he got a shot at playing a hero. Too bad he's been dead for 70 years.