Review - Cynthia Peleyo's Children of Chicago
There are a lot of comparisons that sprang to mind upon reading Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago, all of them good and all of them noteworthy as elements of craft – moments of having to stop reading the book to contemplate exactly what it reminded me of, and why. I say that as a complement to the Author – I really liked where she is heading, and it’s made me all the more excited for “Into the forest and all the way through”, but I’ll come to that in a while.
There are touches of Gaiman, to be sure, in the mix of magical and horror, real and fantasy, the taking of a simple fairy tale and looking at it through an unfiltered blood lens. There’s king in there too, the supernatural abilities of the monster almost IT like in presentation, reality-warping to accommodate the antagonist, an otherworldly god, reduced in status to a fairy tale. There was also something early-Patterson (good – still fighting Patterson) about one of the children, Fin, that made me constantly think she was on the verge of saying “cool beans”. As I said, moments of craft that forced me to stop and admire the construction of the tale, but Pelayo brings her own distinct interests into the book in form of her own voice - that of detail-rich history and love of architecture, and fleshes out the combination of magic and mystery lore that Gaiman would skip, catches the historical observations of King but injects it with a love of the subject – Chicago is her own home - and recognizes that simple truth that Patterson never understood – that sometimes there is no winner to be had, no happy ending in sight.
To summarize without spoilers, the book is a study of the basis of one of Grimm’s fairy tales, and then taking that basis and superimposing it on today’s hard-boiled society. The Mc is a hardened female homicide detective, with a haunted past – a past which intrudes her ability to solve a spree of killings to which she holds a crucial key in solving, though solving the case demands an accounting.
There are unusual memory shifts employed – crucial memories are remembered in time to the action, inserted in the middle of the moment without warning, and the effect is interesting – it’s like being hit with lost information, a sudden memory whiplash, to reflect the same effect happening to the MC. There are history drops, wonderfully rich which beg the reader stop and go google – and an almost easter egg approach to the information – HH Holmes popping up a tip of the hat to Tantlingers poetry? I’d love to think so.
The book is written as a tragedy, I think It’s fair to say that we are slowly working toward an inevitable conclusion with regards the MC’s sister and stepmother, but it is the long, drawn-out descent that makes this book memorable. Finn is represented wonderfully, Mo likewise. There are social commentary moments that had me laughing as a European – The American Penchant of wearing shoes into the house always freaked me out, here we have the MC considering if someone’s shoes would be traipsing brain tissue and blood into her house. A horrific thought, yet ironically more or less the exact thing I think of every time I watch an American tv show. That is probably stereotyping on my part, and I am dutifully sorry. My bad. But it was nice to see reflected here.
One detail I missed – We never find out if the thing Mo bargained over was accomplished – It left me wondering on his motivation, but that’s my nerdiness coming out.
To tie this all up – it’s left me excited to read Cynthia’s (Am I allowed to call you that?) newest poetry book, Into the forest… because it’s based on true crimes – and that is the thing that really works well here – I believe Mrs Pelayo is a researcher – it drips through her detail and infuses the reader with the same longing to find out information, explore the detail, and to come to the same horrific conclusions that she has.
I really liked this. This is a monster for the 2020s.
Full disclosure – I received a copy of this book as an ARC in return for a review, but also full disclosure, I liked it so much I bought my own copy after reading it anyway, It will serve as a great tour guide should I ever manage to get to Chicago.