My review of Melanie Villines very interesting book, Windy City Sinners is up at Goodreads. You can scroll down to read it.
Everyone’s a sinner and a saint.
I didn’t know what to expect from a book described as “A Magic Realism Crime Novel”, but the more I read the more involved I became in the lives of the residents in that little neighborhood on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago. As my eyes ran over the words, I was pulled in. I found myself cruising down the road looking for a house to move into and observe everyone I met within the pages. I wanted to take my laundry to Redemption Dry Cleaners to know what Virginia had to say about my level of sin.
Everyone sins but in Windy City Sinners, you can get your sins washed away at Redemption Dry Cleaners at a price, and that price keeps rising as the fame and success of the dry cleaning business grows. People go into debt just to get their sins washed away little realizing that money cannot pay for sins committed. Yet the owner and originator of this unique business, Virginia, is least bothered where the money comes from, as long as it keeps coming.
“Does the State of Illinois ask where people get the money to buy lottery tickets? Do the riverboats ask where people get the money they spend in the slot machines and at the gaming tables? Does the Catholic Church ask where each dime comes from that goes into the collection plate?”
Every character has his/her spot in the limelight and readers are given a front row seat to their lives to view their sins. Everyone is a saint and sinner rolled into one. What’s interesting is that while they commit the most unbelievably bizarre crimes one can’t feel negatively about any of the characters. Even Grazyna who steals from the dead without remorse, is quite likable. We find ourselves sympathizing with her views, and even accepting that there is nothing wrong with taking from the dead since what use are all those decorations placed on their graves since they are no more.
“Grazyna doesn’t see this as robbery. Silk flowers are expensive, after all. And what good are they to the dead? The flowers look much better in her yard. The departed souls have told her as much. She confers with them, asking for their consent before she takes the flowers. Grazyna considers herself fortunate –life is so much simpler when you receive permission for an act that most people would deem as a sin.”
Everyone wants to lead a good life and they are trying to find ways to do so, legally or illegally. They are also trying hard to be good people in the eyes of God, and are always making excuses for their sins or trying to find ways of redeeming their sins.
Marek impersonates a black man to rob because he thinks no one would suspect a white man of holding up dry cleaners. A recent immigrant, he needs the money to make his dream come true, and he reasons with himself that,
“outright robbery is more honest than corporate deceit.”
Father Spinelli the frustrated and angry pastor is not interested in tending to his flock. Being in the Church is merely a means of employment. He yearns to become as famous as Father Antonio Vivaldi and the inability to realize his ambitions has made him into a bitter man who has no choice but to listen to the problems of his congregation while all he wants is to make music, get a record deal and become famous.
The author succeeds in keeping the reader waiting to turn the page and discover more. This was one book I found hard to stop reading, and was quite disappointed that it had to end. It’s entertaining and hilarious and you feel for the characters, all of them. There’s good and bad in all of us and the characters of Windy City Sinners are proof of that. Everyone’s faults and weaknesses are brought out into the open and analyzed. We see kindness lurking in almost everyone coupled with greed and avarice. We also see the sheer determination and effort the characters put into what they do to deceive everyone around them, like Officer Jerry Valentino, who tries to hide the stash of drugs in the statue of the Virgin Mary and the crimes Sammy the mafia man is willing to commit in order to quit his line of work.
Money and fame are the guiding forces behind every action of the characters. When Virginia’s dry cleaning business becomes almost like a religious cult, Grazyna also decides to get in on the sin redemption business and starts the Spotless Souls Housekleaning Service selling a line of sin-removing sponges and other do-it- yourself products.
“She realizes there’s no end to ways you can make money – once you get started with a good, solid business concept.”
Everything is business and everyone wants to make it big. Yet there is a price to pay as everyone finds out. But do they learn from their mistakes? Or from the clairvoyant cat?