Uptown Chicago Resources

Books Set in Uptown Chicago (Fiction)

For the last 100 years or so, the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago has served as inspiration for a host of local writers. Featured here are tales of mystery, of suspense, and of life on the streets. We also have a list of non-fiction books. If there’s a book we’ve missed, please let us know! E-mail us at editor@compassrose.org

Sheridan Road Mystery

This 1921 edition of The Sheridan Road Mystery is from the CRCC collection.

The Sheridan Road Mystery by Paul and Mabel Thorne (1921)

A policeman, loitering along a street in one of the exclusive residential sections of Chicago one fine October night, heard a shot. Prompt investigation yielded no clues, no victim, no witnesses. And yet, something had happened and someone had disappeared, as Detective Sergeant Morgan, expert detective of the Chicago force, soon determined from minute bits of evidence that his keen eyes picked up. From the beginning, this is the kind of mystery story that delights readers of detective fiction. Clues weave and interweave, and end in baffling enigmas, and the plot becomes more and more complicated and exciting until the climax, which is a climax that only a very, very clever reader will foresee.

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Cover Beggars' Shore

From the Asian shops on Argyle Street to the Darlington Arms to the religious community living in an old Wilson Avenue hotel, Uptown residents will recognize the landscape that inspired The Beggars’ Shore.

The Beggars’ Shore by Zak Mucha (1999)

Chicago’s notorious Uptown neighborhood is the last stop on the down elevator, a dumping ground for people who have run out of road and choices. Joseph Askew, raised in a rigid and insular religious commune, walks out one day, searching. He starts his journey where the world’s failures end theirs.

The “Word” on which Joseph was raised plays differently on the streets. The teenager learns a new set of rules from his teachers: transvestite prostitutes, small-change thieves, ex-pimps, and other denizens of a bleak shadowland where every occupant is constantly shape-shifting between predator and prey. The only exit sign is double-arrow neon: the jailhouse or the graveyard.

The Beggars’ Shore is a story of pilgrimage, a journey where the destination is only “not here.” Joseph tries to carve out a place for himself while working at a liquor store and squatting in a dilapidated flat with his girlfriend and her drug habit. Waiting for his big payday from the man known only as “the Printer,” he dreams of building a future of his own. As the boy seeking manhood tries to gather the pieces of his life, he learns how much of the world can fall away from him. Evocative, powerful, and compelling, The Beggars’ Shore is a masterful debut.

Killer on Argyle Street by Michael Raleigh

Killer on Argyle Street is part of the Paul Whelan mystery series set in Uptown.

Killer on Argyle Street by Michael Raleigh (1995)

A faceless killer is murdering the members of a car-theft ring, and Paul Whelan is hired to find a boy who may have seen the murderer, a man with a chameleon-like ability to change his appearance. Whelan’s search leads him to Argyle Street, the busy, exotic Asian strip at the edge of the Uptown neighborhood, where all the evidence suggests that the murderer may already have gotten the boy. Along the way Whelan learns that another man is involved, a boyhood friend Whelan had believed to be dead, and Whelan comes to believe that more than one person is involved in the murders.

Killer on Argyle Street is part of the Paul Whelan mystery series developed by Uptown author Michael Raleigh. His other books include Death in Uptown, A Body in Belmont Harbor, The Riverview Murders, and The Maxwell Street Blues. Raleigh currently teaches English at Truman College.

Cover of White Tiger by Michael Allen Dymmoch

Twenty-five years after the Vietnam War, a drug dealer called The White Tiger hunts for his victims in the Uptown, Chicago neighborhood known as Little Saigon.

White Tiger by Michael Allen Dymmoch (2005)

John Thinnes, a detective on the Chicago police force, and Jack Caleb, a well-known psychiatrist, were friends—unlikely friends, maybe, with very different lives, but men who liked and respected each other. And they had one significant experience in common: Both had been “in country” in Vietnam during the war. Arriving home, both men would have liked to forget the horrors of that war but could not banish them from their memory. They had left Vietnam, but Vietnam would never leave them.

In the years since the war ended, Thinnes married and fathered a son, Caleb prospered with his psychiatric practice and found a gay lover. Later, a series of murders and rapes brought the police officer and the psychiatrist together in an oddly matched friendship, each contributing his special knowledge to try to solve crimes that were hard to unravel. But memories remain—ugly memories of maiming and killing on both sides, not only of soldiers but of innocent Vietnamese farmers and their families, of drug dealers and the city’s poor. And now, on a morning shortly into the new millennium, Jack Caleb is listening to the radio and hears of the shooting death of a Vietnamese immigrant woman in Chicago’s “Little Saigon,” and a flashback leaves him trembling.

Word on the street in Little Saigon is that the “White Tiger” is now in Chicago. “White Tiger” is the only known name for a mysterious and savage drug dealer and all-around criminal who terrorized even the toughest thugs in Vietnam. Both men dig, together and each in his own way, for the reason this innocent woman was murdered, both thoroughly aware that by searching in the deep, they are offering their own lives to the Tiger’s wrath.

In White Tiger, Michael Allen Dymmoch has faultlessly linked the horrors of the war in Vietnam, from the viewpoints of those on both sides of the conflict and also from the hearts and minds of two very different men, and has woven them into a thrilling story of terror in the past and in the very present now.

City Dogs by William Brashler

City Dogs

City Dogs by William Brashler (1976)

Chicago’s seamy North Side—Uptown—is the setting for City Dogs, a powerful story of several weeks in the lives of a handful of petty thieves, derelicts, ne’er-do-wells, delinquints, con men, whores, salesmen, maniacs, gloms, and clergymen, all scratching to get by.

Its protagonist is Harry Lum, 57-year-old wino, welfare bum, and petty thief down on his luck, who falls in with two young punks, pimp Jimmy Del Corso and pill-popping hillbilly Donald Ray Burl. From simple purse-snatching Harry graduates to robbery and then breaking and entering. In the process he makes and breaks a deal with the police and moves in with his long-suffering step-sister, Helen, against her better judgment. Before the novel drives to its dramatic climax, the lives of all of them are altered—some violently.

In its uncanny ability to capture the language, rythms, smells—the very essence—of this special world and its polygot mix of people, City Dogs is a remarkable achievement. Author William Brashler was a police reporter on Chicago’s North Side for two years. “For months I met my characters,” he writes; “prostitutes who danced on station house tables, bums who played trumpets, cops who talked to Jesus and carried guns on their ankles.” His first novel, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, was made into a major motion picture.


Penance is a darkly disturbing tale of a child killer stalking his victims in Uptown.

Penance by Rick Reed (1992)

They’re barely into their teens, but wiser than their years. Without homes, without families, they dwell in neon-cast shadows, the violent eddies of urban America. They trade their innocence for money, abuse their faded hopes, and then a monster comes… A monster without fangs or claws, but more deadly. Because of them, he has lost everything: his wife, his family. And he vows to clean the streets of Uptown, Chicago…for good. One of the street kids and a man of the cloth stained by his own sins form a desperate pact. Together, they will find the madman whose basement has become a chamber of horrors…

Rick Reed has written a sequel to Penance, a short story called “Moving Toward the Light.” It can be found in the anthology The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams.

Annie’s Angel by Jim Lawrence (2000)

Annie’s Angel by Jim Lawrence

Annie’s Angel takes place in the early 1960s when Uptown was known as “Hillbilly Heaven.”

Uptown, Chicago. Fall, 1963. In the brutal place known as “Hillbilly Land,” the James Allen McCree family of Letcher County, Kentucky struggle to survive. It is in the hostile environment that 14-year-old Annie must come of age. When her mother passes on to her a folk belief in a guardian angel, Annie dares to hope that her family might come under his protection. However, a series of personal tragedies propels her on her own spiritual journey. Along the way she discovers more about who she is, experiences the power of first love, and learns a thing or two about so-called angels—namely, that they often aren’t what one expects and rarely look like angels at all!

Jim Lawrence is a native Southerner. He grew up in the coastal community of New Smyrna Beach, Florida and received much of his education in North Carolina and at Florida State University. He spent a number of years in Los Angeles working in the film and television industries. He currently lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina where he teaches TV production and screenwriting, directs the occasional stage play, practices Tai Chi Chuan and shares in the parenting of two precocious Cairn terriers.

Yada Yada Prayer Group

Neta Jackson’s Yada Yada Prayer Group books have sold more than 150,000 copies.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson

What do an ex-con, a former drug addict, a real estate broker, a college student, and a married mother of two have in common?

Nothing, or so Jodi Baxter thought. Who would have imagined that God would make a group as mismatched as that the closest of friends?

“I almost didn’t even go to the Chicago Women’s Conference—after all, being thrown together with five hundred strangers wasn’t exactly my ‘comfort zone.’ But I would be rooming with my boss, Avis, and I hoped that maybe I might make a friend or two.

“When Avis and I were assigned to a prayer group of twelve women at the conference, I wasn’t sure what to think. There was Flo, an outspoken ex-drug addict; Ruth, a Messianic Jew who could smother-mother you to death; and Yo-Yo, an ex-con who wasn’t even a Christian! Not to mention women from Jamaica, Honduras, South Africa—practically a mini-United nations. We certainly didn’t have much in common.

Neta Jackson, author of the Yada Yada Prayer Group series, lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her husband Dave, who is also a writer. They are active members of Reba Place Church, a Christian church community, and since 1998 have been members of The Worship Center, a multi-racial congregation.

Guardian Angel by Sara Paretsky

Guardian Angel, by popular novelist Sara Paretsky is about an old woman living in Uptown, Chicago whose yuppie neighbors try to steal the title to her home.

Guardian Angel by Sara Paretsky (1992)

Racine Avenue is going upscale—bad news for hand-to-mouth residents like V.I. Warshawski. As tax bills skyrocket, newcomers pressure old inhabitants into fixing up their homes or moving out. To the yuppies on the block the worst eyesore belongs to old Hattie Frizell, whose yard is “returning to native prairie, complete with hubcaps.” Their block club wants her and her five dogs gone.

V.I. and Hattie have a relationship of sorts: one of those five dogs gave V.I.’s dog Peppy an unwelcome litter. When Hattie slips in her bath and is rushed unconscious to the hospital, V.I. feels compelled to get involved. But neighboring lawyer Todd Pichea and his wife, Chrissie, act swiftly to get the courts to make them Hattie’s legal guardians. V.I. returns from a business trip to find they’ve put the old woman’s dogs to sleep. Furious, V.I. starts poking around in the Picheas’ affairs, hoping to turn up something scandalous enough to make them lose their guardianship.

Hattie isn’t the detective’s only worry. When her downstairs neighbor’s oldest friend disappears, Mr. Contreras persuades V.I. to investigate. As she probes both problems, V.I. uncovers a scandal linking one of Chicago’s oldest industrial families to union fraud and a politically connected bank. Her investigation takes her into the depths of the steamy Sanitary Canal and brings her eyeball-to-eyeball with her ex-husband, Dick Yarborough. When her dear friend Lotty Herschel and her own lawyer turn against her, V.I. is left alone to struggle with the most serious case of her career.

Gallows Punk

How many familiar Uptown locations can you spot in the cover montage of A Punk in Gallows America by Chicago author P.W. Fox?

A Punk in Gallows America by P.W. Fox (2001)

The Small Press Review called it an “engrossing first novel of the infamous Uptown section of Chicago.” A Punk in Gallows America is the story of Eddie Ways, a once-wealthy suburbanite who finds himself hanging around the social underworld of Chicago. His adventures, including his fixation on Lisa Cones, a prostitute, lead to discoveries about life at large and his own life in particular.

Author P.W. Fox is a Chicago-area resident whose work has appeared in dozens of literary journals. The book cover’s photographic montage was created from the author’s own photographs of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

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