Chicago history enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy Honor Above All. Set in 1882, it showcases the city eleven years post-fire when architects Adler & Sullivan and Burnham & Root were rethinking its skyline. Garrett Lyons, a Pinkerton detective and ex-Army man, returns to the city with the body of his murdered partner. Determined to avenge his death, he finds himself unwelcome at Pinkertons; Allan Pinkerton has had a heart attack, and his son Bill has his own agenda. Lyons strikes off on his own, accepting solace from Army widow Charlotte Reid, who runs the most popular poker game in town; help from his friend Louis Sullivan; and room and board, as well as oversight of a doomed building project, from his former commanding officer, General Stannard.
Full disclosure: I work as a librarian at the Chicago History Museum, so Chicago history is my business. Bard-Collins gets everything right, from the opulence of the large hotels to the dustiness and grit of the streets. The inclusion of a disgraced state senator returning to public life after imprisonment feels like a nod to Chicago’s long history of political corruption. The book is packed with various aspects of unsavory deeds in 19th-century Chicago – vandalism on a building site, counterfeit government bonds, and Army cover-ups. At times, it felt as though a lot of plot lines were juggled, but in the end, I realized that they were skillfully woven together. And, what came through was a zest and appreciation for Chicago, undimmed by the corruption and greed of some characters. This is Bard-Collins’ first book, and I hope the first in a series. I’d love to see Lyons, Reid, Sullivan, et al., again.