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Chuck Hogan Knows What Makes a Crime Novel Cook
In his first novel in a decade, Hogan ’89 takes readers into the Chicago underworld.
Chicago has long held a place in the popular imagination. This, after all, is the city of world-class food, hapless baseball teams, and a legendary comedy scene. But there may be no more enduring fascination with Chicago than the years when it served as a center for organized crime. From Al Capone’s brief and violent reign to John Dillinger’s final bloody showdown in an alley behind the Biograph Theater, the city’s gangsters have inspired an endless stream of books, movies, and television shows. The latest entry is Gangland, the new novel from Chuck Hogan ’89, which tells the story of someone a little less known to the rest of the country: Tony Accardo, the longest-serving mob boss in history. And notably, one who spent only one night in jail—or none at all, depending on which legend you believe.
Hogan is best known as the author of a number of Boston-based crime novels, particularly Prince of Thieves, his saga of Charlestown bank robbers that was the basis for the film The Town, starring Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall. But in Gangland, Hogan travels to Chicago to tell the story of Accardo, revisiting a nigh-unbelievable actual moment in Accardo’s life: the night a group of unidentified people broke into his house and trashed it while he was in Florida, setting off a chain of retaliatory murders allegedly ordered by Accardo. “It’s just such an insanely transgressive and essentially suicidal act,” Hogan said. “That’s what drew me to it. It’s stranger than fiction that someone would break into, of all people, the mob boss’s house.”
Accardo, of course, is a real-life figure at the center of the story, but Hogan chose as his protagonist the fictional character Nick Passero, known as Nicky Pins because of the bowling alley he runs. Nicky is middle management within the organization—ambitious, loyal, and eager to move up in the world, but also caught in a terrible bind with an aggressive FBI agent pushing him to betray Accardo. And what of the boss himself? The Accardo of Gangland is aging, paranoid, and fixated on maintaining power. “There’s something a little bit King Lear-ish about him,” Hogan said. “It’s a combination of ambition and just, this is who he is. To stop being who he is would be death.”
Hogan ratchets up the tension moment by moment as Nicky scrambles to hold onto his life and career. It’s a technique that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Hogan’s other books. “That’s my favorite kind of story,” he said. “I love stories about people who get into a no-win situation and how they deal with it. The fun thing about crime fiction is pushing that to the limit, to see someone really under stress and how they act, and how they try to navigate those waters.” There’s also the appeal of providing that entry point into a forbidden world. “It’s a glimpse into a subculture that most people romanticize,” Hogan said. “But it’s a very, very dangerous place to be.”
Gangland represents something of a homecoming for Hogan—it’s his first book in ten years after focusing on TV and film writing work, including the TV and novel versions of the vampire pandemic series The Strain, which he created with the acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro. The actual pandemic, the Covid one, as awful as it was, offered some time and space for Hogan to work on his new book, though he said he remained as trepidatious as ever about writing a novel, something he has always considered a “monumental undertaking” despite his successes. “I still think that every time I start one,” he admitted. Whatever his concerns, his return to the form has been well-received by critics. The New York Times, for instance, put Gangland on its list of the best crime fiction of 2022.
However daunting it may have felt to contemplate writing his first novel in a decade, Hogan was happy with the results on the other side. “It was wonderful to get back and do it,” he said. “I’m hoping to find some space and time to do it again.”