Mystery Authors You May Have Missed
"Speaking to groups about my writing, indeed, about any aspect of writing and publishing has been the most enjoyable aspect of becoming a published writer. I've spoken at dozens of neighborhood and community libraries, and I never tire of it."
Michael Raleigh, born April, 1947, is a lifelong Chicagoan and the author of five mysteries and two novels. He grew up on the north side of Chicago, spending his first eleven years in the neighborhood around the old Riverview amusement park, a neighborhood that is lovingly at the heart and soul of his novel In the Castle of the Flynns (2002), one of his two non-mysteries. It is natural for Raleigh to set his mysteries in landmark Chicago places such as Riverview, Uptown, Belmont Harbor, and Maxwell Street, as he knows his city.
Having attended DePaul University in Chicago, Michael received a BA in English literature, and went on to Michigan State University, where he received an MA in English and received training as a teacher of English as a Second Language. After graduate school, Michael taught part-time at DePaul University and the City Colleges of Chicago, and he has been, variously, a bank teller, a librarian, a bartender, a grant writer for the Salvation Army, an office manager, a microfiche technician, and a punch press operator. During the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote short stories and poetry, and some of his early work appeared in literary magazines. He also received four Illinois Arts Council grants for fiction writing. He went back into teaching and in 1980 took a position at Truman College in Chicago where for twenty-eight years he taught English as a Second Language, freshman composition, literature, and the history of Chicago (a subject which, over the years, has become a favorite of his and the setting of much of his work). He has been married for over twenty-five years to his wife Katherine, and they have three children.
What he writes: Michael Raleigh’s hard-boiled detective character Paul Whelan dogs murderers in Chicago. He manages to conduct thorough investigations by winning over bartenders, crabby waitresses, and wary old men on benches. He likes and respects these people, the more colorful the better, and readers expect that. Raleigh has a thing for losers and writes of them with affection. When Whelan eats, it is in small local delis, bodegas, and restaurants where Raleigh’s descriptions of the “ambiance” is often as interesting as the plot. Although this walk-and-talk can be light on action, there's a lot of life on the “mean” streets of Chicago. Raleigh frequently calls the police for research. "I used to notice things that weren't accurate in other people's books. I wanted to get mine right." The police have been extremely helpful, providing the kinds of factual details that make fiction come alive. "They (the police) like people to know how intricate their job is," says Raleigh. His attention to detail has earned him some interesting fans. When Raleigh presented a program at one of the Chicago Public Library branches, two violent crimes detectives came to hear him speak. "They've read all my books," he says. This does speak to the accuracy of his research and the authentic voice of his fiction.
In 2002, Raleigh branched out from his Whelan mysteries to publish In the Castle of the Flynns, a fictional memoir that tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy whose parents are killed in a car crash. He then goes to live with his eccentric, extended family, and begins to discover his family and their Irish Catholic heritage. His loving descriptions of Chicago in the 1950s make any reader wish they were there. When asked in an interview if the characters in the novel were based on his own family, Raleigh explained that the novel is "largely a fictional story wrapped around actual incidents and family legends."
Raleigh 's next book, The Blue Moon Circus, focused on a down-on-his-luck former circus manager who reenters the circus world, gathers a peculiar band of misfits, and sets off to reestablish his show. Despite obsolete circus equipment and an aging cast of performers, the circus meets some successes along the way. Kirkus Reviews considered this book to be "beguiling, wise, and wonderful."
Raleigh once told Contemporary Authors: "I waited a long time to see the publication of my first novel. Twenty-one years passed between the day I wrote and sent out my first short story and the day my book Death in Uptown appeared... The idea of becoming a writer first occurred to me during college, but a wise creative writing teacher told me that it would be best to find some way of paying the rent and buying food while I was becoming one. I took his advice and spent most of the 1970s and 1980s writing in my free time while working at a succession of unrelated and often unpleasant jobs. I like to think that this period broadened my horizons a bit in terms of subject matter and interest.” He was influenced by a pair of great Chicago writers, Nelson Algren and the now largely ignored novelist, James T. Farrell.
Of his mystery series he says “My mystery novels feature Chicago detective Paul Whelan, an idiosyncratic man with unorthodox methods, acute instincts, and a quirky sense of humor, and his friend and occasional nemesis, the belligerent Al Bauman of the Chicago Police."
|List of works
|Paul Whelan Series|
|Death in Uptown (1991) -- eBook|
|A Body in Belmont Harbor (1993) -- eBook|
|The Maxwell Street Blues (1994) -- eBook|
|Killer on Argyle Street (1995) -- eBook|
|The Riverview Murders (1997)|
|In the Castle of the Flynns (2001) -- eBook|
|The Blue Moon Circus (2003)|
Fellow of Illinois Arts Council, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989.
|What the critics say|
|A critic for Publishers Weekly described [character] Whelan as "a grungy, moral and pleasingly anachronistic shamus working the ethnically diverse, economically bruised neighborhoods of Chicago's Uptown district."|
|Whelan's adventures contain, wrote Wes Lukowsky in Booklist, "an agreeably low-key protagonist; plenty of vivid Chicago atmosphere; and a well-rounded portrayal of mean streets and the often very decent people forced to inhabit them."|
|A Publishers Weekly critic, writing about The Riverview Murders, maintained that Raleigh’s tale demonstrates his knack for fashioning living, breathing characters out of his tough urban settings." Lukowsky found the novel to be a "riveting private-eye yarn" and "a solid entry in an underappreciated, carefully crafted series."|
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