‘Chicago’ by David Mamet – A Slug of Violent Cynicism Mixed with a Pill of Maudlin Sentimentality


Chicago’ by David Mamet   (2018) – 332 pages

“Jackie Weiss had died of a broken heart, it being broken by several slugs from a .45.”     

‘Chicago’ by David Mamet is an old-fashioned gangster novel that wears its all-pervasive cynicism and violence proudly. It is a tale of unending corruption written in Mamet’s distinctive tough-guy style.

The scene is the all too familiar one of Chicago in the 1920s.  Al Capone’s Italian gang runs the south side of town; Dion O’Banion’s Irish gang runs the north side. Mike Hodge is a hard-drinking reporter for the Chicago Tribune covering the action at all costs with his deadpan partner Parlow.

All the clichés of the era are here, the hooker Peekaboo with a heart of gold, the nightclub owner murdered by the mob using a Thompson sub-machine gun, the wise-guy reporters trying to write it all down by deadline.  The story morphs into a murder mystery when Mike’s so sweet love-of-his-life girlfriend Annie is gunned down as the couple sits in a restaurant.

The plot in ‘Chicago’ is about as clichéd as a story can get, and the characters are all trite stereotypes you would find in any old gangster movie or story. There are only two ways in ‘Chicago’ to react to anything that happens, either you are perversely cynical or you are maudlin with sentimentality.  What saves the novel to some extent is the energy of the writing.  As you would expect from the playwright Mamet the dialogue is vivid and engaging, though drop-dead cynical.  Here is a good example of this wise-ass style of writing:

“A newspaper is a joke.  Existing at the pleasure of the advertisers, to mulct the public, gratifying their stupidity, and render some small advance on investment to the owners, offering putative employment to their etiolated wastrel sons, in those young solons’ circuit between the Fort Dearborn Club and the Everleigh House of Instruction.”

“Well, fuck you,” Mike said, “as we said in the Great War.”

Mike often waxes sentimental about his days fighting and flying in World War I.  Why are the most cynical and disdainful of men also the most mawkishly maudlin and sentimental about the things that they themselves happen to like?

I had no problem reading this novel.  I sped through all the plot clichés, the shopworn unoriginal characters, the cynicism, the sentimentality.  However ‘Chicago’ left little of lasting value.


Grade:   B


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Annabel (gaskella) on April 1, 2018 at 12:45 AM

    Sounds like it’d be better on stage than the page?



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