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Sheldon Siegel: The Terrorist Next Door

December 22, 2012

One night, I spent at my sister’s house in Berkeley, before going to bed I began reading Sheldon Siegel’s newest novel The Terrorist Next Door. Its main character is a cop who, I suspect, to the disappointment of his jewish parents failed to become a doctor, lawyer or famous writer of mystery novels and ended up a Chicago homicide detective. He is teamed up with a black partner in a relationship reminiscent of that between Danny Glover and that famous anti-Semite Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapon series of movies.

There are three things I noticed and appreciated about the novel. First, it is an incomparable travelogue of Chicago (one should read the book with a map of the city nearby). Second, is what one learns about Michelle Obama, a girl from the neighborhood. Third, Sheldon in his own good-hearted and upbeat way puts his finger upon the essential flaw in the American character and gives you a glimpse of how good things can be without it and how truly and horribly destructive it really it.

For those of you familiar with and aficionados of the Siegel cannon, he began his writing career trying to write a novel about a young jewish attorney wrongfully accused of the murder of one of his partners, a fictional stand in for a partner of ours at the time whose removal both Sheldon and I agreed probably would immeasurably benefit humanity. Alas, in his writing of the initial drafts, his main character was overwhelmed by a fast talking Irish criminal lawyer and his estranged Chicana attorney wife. This resulted in the beloved character’s prominence being eclipsed. He disappeared entirely by the third novel in the series; even his name is now lost to memory.

My experience is similar to Sheldon’s. I attempted to write a mystery. The main character, a stand for yours truly, managed to come across as a boring jerk. He was ultimately replaced in interest and importance by a musclebound bisexual female deputy sheriff from San Mateo County.

Detective David Gold is made of stronger stuff. I see and hope for Gold’s career to be at least as long and as distinguished as Kaminsky’s Abe Lieberman, also a Chicago detective and also a disappointment to his parents.

I suspect Sheldon always wanted to write a novel with Chicago, the city he grew up in, as a setting.

I have visited Chicago only a few times. Nevertheless, for me given my ethnic heritage, it has always been one of the sacred places; like Umberto’s Clam House in New York’s Little Italy. For over a decade the stain remained on the sidewalk where, having staggered out of the restaurant after being shot, Joey Gallo fell down and bled to death. Every year, I would make an annual pilgrimage there until time and the City’s acid laced rains erased every vestige of the epic event.

Chicago was the home of the sainted Scarface Al. Alas, I have never visited any of the pilgrimage sites there; such as SMC Cartage warehouse site of the massacre that occurred on the feast day of the saint of love. I sometime wonder what ever happened to many of the relics of my legendary ethnic heroes. Are they in a museum somewhere? Where now, for example, are the artifacts such as Anastasia’s barber chair, Mo Green’s massage table, St. Frank’s used condoms, Deano’s shot glass and Mario Puzo‘s typewriter? And, while I am at it, where have you really gone Joe DiMaggio? And, why did Tony Benedetto, (nee Bennet), a New Yorker who chose to live in LA, really decide to leave his heart is SF?

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