This is a book that will have strong appeal for readers who enjoy classic, hard-boiled novels from the early 1950's. W. R. Burnett, who was also a prolific screenwriter, was a master of the genre, and among his other books are Little Caeser,High Sierra, and The Asphalt Jungle, all of which were made into classic films.
Burnett specialized in novels about urban corruption, andVanity Row is set in an unspecified large city, perhaps modeled after Chicago. The city is tightly controlled by bosses tied to a criminal syndicate, and as the book opens, a powerful lawyer named Frank Hobart is gunned down. The initial impression is that mobsters associated with the syndicate may have killed Hobart.
The city's political boss calls in Captain Roy Hargis, a brilliant and powerful policeman who deals with sensitive matters. The orders for Hargis are clear: Find someone to take the rap for the killing; get the heat off the bosses and get things back to normal ASAP. Hobart was in a stormy relationship with Ilona Vance, a woman of questionable character, as they used to say back in the day. The Powers That Be suggest that Ilona might make an excellent fall guy (or woman).
Hargis appears to have no problem with this idea until he meets the lady in question. Ilona is a large but exceptionally beautiful woman who seems to exert a strange power over every man she meets. And once Hargis lays eyes on her, all bets are out the window.
It's a great story and Burnett creates a wonderful cast of characters to populate it, beginning with a young newsboy who witnesses the killing and who doesn't take crap from anyone, including the cops. All in all, a fine way to spend an evening.