Little Schoolboys

Cover Image


THE BOOK: Little Schoolboys.

PUBLISHED IN: June, 2017

THE AUTHOR: John Guzlowski.

THE PUBLISHER: Ravenswood Publishing, a small independent press focusing on popular fiction and selected non-fiction.

SUMMARY: The novel is set in the late psychedelic 1960s in Chicago. Two Chicago detectives, Hank Purcell and Marvin Bondarowicz, are called in by a nun to deal with a pedophile priest who is apparently sexually abusing altar boys. Shortly afterward, the nun is found murdered in her convent. The two detectives are attempting to deal with both the pedophilia and the murder, but the lead detective Hank Purcell is distracted by the disappearance of his daughter who may have been kidnapped by drug dealers.

John Z. GuzlowskiThe novel is a sequel to Suitcase Charlie. It picks up my two Chicago Police detectives 10 years later. The central character, Hank Purcell, is still troubled by the way the previous case ended and by his memories and nightmares of his service in WWII. For him, the case is especially troubling because the nun who was killed is a friend of his and someone who helped him solve the Suitcase Charlie murders.

Marvin is still Marvin. He takes almost nothing seriously and enjoys the fruits of the 60s: marijuana, LSD, and rock and roll.

THE BACK STORY: Two very different impulses motivated me in writing this novel.

First was the pedophilia I saw and heard about when I was a child in a Catholic school in Chicago. Second was World War II, its lasting effects.

My home parish in Chicago was a parish with a history of pedophilia. Three of the priests in my parish were accused of pedophilia. Although I never was approached by these priests, I had friends who were. Some of them were lucky enough to fight off the advances, some weren’t. In either case, the experience was something that haunted my friends. I have friends who still carry this burden, 55 years after the assaults and sexual abuse. As you can imagine, it’s not something they want to talk about.

And what happened to the priests? They were never tried, never brought to justice. Instead, they simply moved from one parish to another until they strangely disappeared from the lists of priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Their names have, however, appeared on another list, the list of sexually-abusive Chicago priests. The list at present contains the names of 144 priests.

I wrote Little Schoolboys because I wanted to talk about pedophilia and what it does to children and their parents.

The other reason was the war.

Most of my writing in the past has focused on the Polish immigrant and WWII survivor community on Chicago’s Near Northwest side. My parents were Polish farm kids who were taken to Germany as slave laborers during the war, and after the war they, my sister, and I came to the US as refugees. We made our home in the Humboldt Park area, St. Fidelis Parish. It was a neighborhood of refugees and survivors. Growing up in the immigrant and refugee neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, I met hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead comrades, and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. One of the things that was always clear to me was that the war for the people around me, including my parents, had no beginning and no end.

Each day was a reminder of some dark moment from the past. I saw this in my parents and I saw this in my friend’s parents. They had seen horrors that would never shake loose from them.

My main characters – Hank and Marv – are also survivors. Although they were not enslaved by the Germans, they were soldiers who – as made clear in Suitcase Charlie – actively and heroically participated in the war, Hank against the Germans and Marv against the Japanese. The work they do now as detectives is in some way a continuation of the work they did during the war. For them too, the war has no beginning and no end.

Through my detectives and the crimes they pursue in a Holocaust survivors neighborhood, I’m – in some way – working through the horrors my parents saw and that they passed on to me through their stories and nightmares.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I chose the title Little Schoolboys for two reasons. First, my mystery is in part about pedophilia. The crime that gets everything moving at the start is a pedophilic act. I chose this title because I wanted to suggest the innocence of the priests’ victims. They are just little children. I also had another reason. Little schoolboys are delicious French cookies, and the title – to me – suggests the sort of careless, unfeeling, selfish way the priests see the boys and girls they abuse. They are just a treat for the priests.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Little Schoolboys – like Suitcase Charlie, my previous novel – is classic noir, I feel. It’s dark, it’s troubling, it’s cynical, it’s fatalist, and it’s morally ambiguous.

Who would want to read it? It’s the kind of crime fiction I like and that I’ve been reading since I picked up my first Mickey Spillane novel when I was 12 years old. And it’s the kind of crime fiction I’m still reading in the novels of James Ellroy, Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Philip Kerr, Daniel Woodrell, and Stieg Larson. Maybe it’s because of where I came from, but I’ve never been a guy who liked to read about mysteries set around a beautiful tea table in a cozy cottage. If you like that list of writers, I think you should give Little Schoolboys a shot.

REVIEW COMMENTS:  “Little Schoolboys is the fast-paced, down and dirty sequel to Suitcase Charlie. The time is ten years later, after the child murders in Suitcase Charlie. Chicago detectives Frank Purcell and Marvin Bondarowicz start out investigating a case of sexual assault on an altar boy by a priest. Then comes the murder of a beloved nun from the same parish. Add to that, Det. Purcell’s family troubles and you have a story that will keep you guessing until the end. I highly recommend this book. It’s not necessary to read Suitcase Charlie first, but I will tell you that it will help you understand this story better if you do.”

“Here we have the same two detectives who delivered such rough justice at the end of Guzlowsi’s Suitcase Charlie. It’s ten years later, and they’re still working the mean streets of Chicago. The setting is carefully drawn, the early 60’s, the era of hippies and psychedelia, social upheaval and change. They’re working a case where, again, the center is a victimized child, and the criminal is someone who recognizes no limits on his own instincts and desires. A nun is murdered, a child is dead, another child, detective Purcell’s teenage daughter Margaret, has gone missing, and it’s the darkest time of the year, filled with cold, and endless snow. This is a gripping crime novel, authentic and fast-paced, once you start reading it’s hard to stop until you’ve reached the last page. But it’s also more than that. What these detectives are confronted with is the problem of evil, with it’s human form and face, it’s presence in human history and institutions. These men have both been through World War II as combatants, have witnessed the brutal evils of battle, have killed, have seen the monumental evil of the Nazi state and its relics. That war haunts these men, and their whole generation. In the city itself, where veterans and refugees have settled, the memories and habits of that war rest like a dark heart, covered in snow and ice that quickly turns filthy and spoiled–the picture of a ruined world. And as the truth about the crime is discovered, the detectives’ response is consistent–physical, brutal, violent–as though the only thing you can do is overcome these evils with your own rage–beat, strangle, smash it to death, no matter what the consequences. Little Schoolboys is a gripping crime novel, and an existential study of evil. I highly recommend it!”

AUTHOR PROFILE: Over a writing career that spans more than 40 years, John Z. Guzlowski has amassed a significant body of published work in a wide range of genres: poetry, prose, literary criticism, reviews, fiction and nonfiction. His work has appeared in numerous national journals and anthologies, and in four prior books. Guzlowski’s work has garnered high praise, including from Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz, who called Guzlowski’s poetry “exceptional.”

Born in a refugee camp in Germany after World War II, Guzlowski came to America with his family as a Displaced Person in 1951. His parents had been Polish slave laborers in Nazi Germany during the war. Growing up in the tough immigrant neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, he met hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead horses, and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians.

In much of his work, Guzlowski remembers and honors the experiences and ultimate strength of these voiceless survivors. Guzlowski received his B.A. in English Literature from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Purdue University. He is Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Eastern Illinois University, and currently lives in Lynchburg, Virginia.

His work has received awards from the Illinois Arts Council and the Polish American Historical Association. Most recently, his book Echoes of Tattered Tongues received the Ben Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal for most thought-provoking book of 2017.

He has also been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes and 5 Pushcart Prizes.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “I see myself not as a mystery writer or a poet – though I’ve done both kinds of writing; rather, I see myself primarily as a historian, as a writer who is concerned about making people feel what the past was like and telling them why they need to remember what happened. It’s easy to turn away from history, to say that was so long ago, to say that it doesn’t matter to anybody.

“But I think doing so cuts us off not only from the people who brought us to this stage in history, but it also cuts us off from the lessons history wants to teach us about how to survive and how to love and how to hope. History is our mother — teaching us all the lessons we need to know to go on.”


From Little Schoolboys, Chapter 1:

Once downstairs, Hank watched the nun sit down on the couch, and then he sat across from her. He kept thinking this was not going to go well. For a long time, she didn’t say anything. She seemed worried, confused. Unsure of herself. She sat there rubbing her chin and running her fingers along the line where her habit met her right cheek.

This wasn’t the way she usually looked. Usually she was determined and purposeful, focused. He remembered when she helped him make sense of some of the clues in the Suitcase Charlie murders. Back then, she acted almost like an evidentiary professor, giving a lesson she had given a thousand times before.

He waited for her to be like that again, to compose herself. Pull herself together.

“Detective Purcell, I need your help.”

“Sure, Sister, anything, you just name it.”

“It’s hard to talk about what I have to talk about,” she said and paused for a moment, looked around the rec room.

“Take your time, Sister. There’s no rush.”

“But there is, Detective. There’s something terrible happening. I saw it today, for the first time, and it stopped me like a death.”

Hank pulled back a bit, and then he leaned forward and listened.

“After the early Saturday morning mass, the 6 o’clock one, I was measuring the altar for a new altar cloth, and I thought I was alone in the church. It was so silent. Not many people come to those early masses anymore. Mostly it’s just the old widows who live near the church. But even they were gone by then, and the church was empty. I couldn’t hear anything. I dropped my tape measure. It was one of the new kind that roll into themselves, and it dropped behind the altar, and I bent down to pick it up, and I looked through the door to the sacristy, and I saw something there.”

Sister Mary Philomena stopped then.

Hank had seen this before. He knew she had something to say and what she had to say was going to change everything, change the world as she knew it, and he knew she couldn’t bring herself to say it because she was afraid of what this new world would be like.

Hank didn’t want to press her. She had to bring it out herself at her own time, her own speed. He waited.

She looked down at her hands. It looked to Hank like she wished she had a rosary in them.

Sister Mary Philomena looked up then, and for a moment made eye contact with Hank.

“I saw one of the parish priests there, and he was doing something. It was something bad.”

She said it, and she stopped. She looked back at her hands.

Hank knew what she was feeling. Whatever she had seen or heard the priest do or say had somehow transferred to her. Women were like that. They were good at taking on the sins of the world, making them their own. He was surprised Jesus Christ hadn’t been a woman. It would have made a whole lot of sense in a hell of a lot of ways.

Then she looked up again, and Hank saw something in her eyes. He knew he was going to hear what it was the priest was doing, and it was going to come out straight and fast. And it was going to be bad.

She stood up then and said it.

“When I looked, it was sort of dark, and the Father’s back was to me, and there was an altar boy sitting on his lap, like the Father was Santa Claus and this boy was telling him what he wanted for Christmas. I could see his face, the boy’s face, and I recognized him. He’s one of Sister Theresa’s 6th graders, Tommy Sawa. He saw me too, and there was a frightened look on his face. Like he knew he was doing something bad.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

PRICE: $12.99 for paperback. $2.99 for Kindle. The book is also available as a Kindle Unlimited.


Twitter: @johnguzlowski


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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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