Friday, January 22, 2021

David Hagerty on Dining Out, Chicago Style

DEBORAH CROMBIE: If there is anything I love more than mysteries, it's mysteries that introduce me to food and restaurants! Make that food and restaurants in places I'd like to visit, or know better. Now, thanks to author David Hagerty, I've got a visit to Chicago on my sometime-in-the-future travel agenda.

Here's David Hagerty to tell us about his new novel, THEY TELL ME YOU ARE WICKED, and about DINING OUT, CHICAGO STYLE:

Every author has written a scene in a restaurant. A character’s choice of food or drink should tell the reader something. Is he a scotch man or a beer guy? Does she prefer sushi or salad?

Plus, food gives your characters something to do—a drink to lift, bread to chew on—and it adds ambiance, even sensuality. You can describe the tastes and smells and even the textures, enlivening an otherwise mundane conversation.

For my mystery series, I like to use real places, including restaurants. Whether it’s high brow hofbrau or high cal hot dogs, real places give fiction authenticity, the sense that locals will know you’re one of them.

My hero, Duncan Cochrane, made his fortune in meat processing, so he can't resist a good hot dog, Chicago style, which is to say "drug through the garden,” with every condiment imaginable, except ketchup. 

He also has a weakness for Italian beef, which is one of my fetishes as well. For those who don't know it (and only locals do), it's a bit like a Philly cheesesteak, except instead of the cheese, it's layered with grilled onions, green papers and a light sauce. My favorite purveyor was Al's, who had a stand next to my high school, where I stopped everyday on the way home.

In the first book in the series, They Tell Me You Are Wicked, Duncan decides he’s tired of the slaughterhouse and tries his hand at politics. He quickly learns it's every bit as bloody. Yet it allowed me to introduce a whole other style of dining, the kind of locales that lend themselves to backroom deals and tense negotiations. For those, I sought out diners, bars, and private rooms.

Naturally, I research these spots before I wrote about them. These aren't the ones that get written up in Chicago magazine or win James Beard awards. They're the kind where you can get a table without a reservation, but you can't escape without reliving some civic history.

Some of my favorites, all of which I’ve used in my work, are:

              the Billy Goat Tavern, which was once parodied by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on Saturday Night Live with "Cheeseburga, Cheeseburga, Cheeseburga"

              Manny's Deli, a high end diner that's a favorite hangout for local politicians

              John Barleycorn, a reputed speakeasy

              The Berghoff, which holds the first liquor license issued following Prohibition

              Walker Bros. on the North Shore, famous for its German and apple cinnamon pancakes

              The Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s), with its signature chicken pot pie


Like most writers, I adhere to the maxim that if your characters love their meal, you can use a real place, but if someone dies there, make it up. So far no one has objected, but none of my characters has come down with food poisoning either.  

What about you? If you were to write a scene in a restaurant, which one would you choose, and why?

If you’d like a free ebook of They Tell Me You Are Wicked, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a copy. I promise not to spam you or sell your name. Instead, once a month, you’ll get an update on my work. Go to my website or shoot me an email at

DEBS: I agree with David about using restaurants in books! I'll use real restaurants in a positive way, but I'd never commit a fictional murder in a real place. I love David's tidbits about these Chicago locals.

READERS, do you enjoy reading about real restaurants in novels? Any favorites?


David Hagerty is the author of the Duncan Cochrane mystery series, which chronicles crime and dirty politics in Chicago during his childhood. Real events inspired all four novels, including the murder of a politician’s daughter six weeks before election day (They Tell Me You Are Wicked), a series of sniper killings in the city’s most notorious housing project (They Tell Me You Are Crooked), the Tylenol poisonings (They Tell Me You Are Brutal), and the false convictions of ten men on Illinois’ death row (They Tell Me You Are Cunning). Like all his books, David is inspired by efforts to right criminal injustice.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Girl Power

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Well, yesterday was a day, wasn't it? Who else watched the inauguration all the way through? As Rick and I sat glued to the big screen TV in our living room, we kept nudging each other and saying, "This is history. We are seeing history." 

There were so many memorable moments, but certainly one of the most outstanding was seeing Vice President Kamala Harris sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

This is what our granddaughter thought about seeing the first female vice-president of the United States!

The world is her oyster now. She even took donuts to school to celebrate! (And I got one that was leftover...)

There were so many other highlights--I'm going to be sifting through them for weeks. President Biden's speech, of course. The passing of the colors. I loved seeing the Clintons, the Bushes, and the Obamas, and the relationships they all have formed.  I loved the obvious affection and pride shown by Dr. Jill Biden for President Biden, and by Doug Emhoff for Vice President Harris. I loved Amy Klobuchar's humor. Bernie's mittens.

But my most awe-struck, teary-eyed moment came as I listened to our youngest ever Inaugural Poet, Amanda Gorman, read her poem, THE HILL WE CLIMB.

If you somehow missed this, she is just stunning. Not only her beautiful words, but her expression, her delivery, her emotion!

I think we'll all be memorizing and reciting this for years to come. And that she will be a force to be reckoned with.

And, now, can we be trivial? 

Who gave the best performance? What about Lady Gaga's gold mic? Garth Brooks without his hat? What was your favorite outfit? Were Dr. Biden's shoes killing her?

REDs and dear readers, share your favorite moments!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Celebrating First Dogs

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm sure we are all glued to our screens today, watching the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris (who's got their pearls on??) but we should take a moment to celebrate the new First Dogs, Champ and Major Biden!

Here's Joe with Major.

And Joe with Champ.

I can't tell you how happy these photos make me. And I love that the Bidens' house looks like ours--dog beds and toys everywhere. 

Our Dax and Jasmine want you to know that they're pretty happy about the new dogs in the White House, too. You can guess why.

I'm sure you all know by now that Major is the first-ever shelter dog in the White House. He even had his own In-dog-uration on Sunday, hosted by the Delaware Humane Association. (Major is not the first rescue dog, however. That title goes to LBJ's Yuki, who was found by Johnson's daughter at a Texas gas station.)

But Major and Champ are not the first German Shepherd dogs in the White House. Herbert Hoover had two GSDs, King Tut and Pat. King Tut didn't care for White House life and was re-homed to the country, but Pat became well known for patrolling the White House grounds, wearing a tag stamped with "#1 Dog" on his collar.

Nor is Major Biden the first White House German shepherd called "Major." The Franklin Roosevelts had a "Major," too, but he apparently wasn't nearly as well behaved as the Hoovers' Pat. Major Roosevelt chased the White House cleaning staff and nipped visitors' fingers. We hope Major Biden will set a better example!


But the last German shepherd to occupy the White House was Clipper Kennedy. Although the Kennedys had a regular pack of canines, Clipper was Jackie Kennedy's favorite. She even took him to obedience school, where little John John and Caroline watched his training. 


So I think it's high time we saw GSDs in the White House again--and I suspect the Bidens will appreciate having staff to help vacuum up the German shepherd hair!

REDS and readers, do you have a favorite First Dog? Has a First Dog ever inspired you to own a breed?

And a big question--should the new First Dogs have their own social media account?

P.S. Cat lovers, don't despair. The Bidens are said to be adding a cat to the household! 

P.P.S. Tell us how you're celebrating the inauguration today!