Because of the way he renders the reader’s heartstrings, Simon Baatz is now one of those people whose opinion is listened to and appreciated.
Making a good use of it, the writer speaks of the most important events that have changed people’s attitude towards the world and the way the world spins. Baatz’s novel For the Thrill of It: : Leopold, Loeb and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago has made every single man who read it consider the bygone epoch from the angle that no one ever has before. It is truly amazing, since the author, in fact, a physicist who decided to become a historian, has incorporated both the thrilling story and the scent of the epoch in his stunning novel. In spite of the fact that the book is referred to the class of the typical who-done-it story, a detective novel, the genre of the book is not that easy to define. Most literature critics consider the book a novel, though it combines the features of several genres, including fiction, psychology and detective. This is, probably, the idea of the twenty-first century that the book was written in to mix the genres into an eye-splitting blaze that cuts deep and hard. A question of why is always the hardest one, but still it will be nice to sound it.
Why did Simon Baatz write this novel? What made him to think of the events of the early 20ies? Did he do it just for the thrill of it? The answer is short and persuasive. As time passes, things change, but people do not. Some eighty years after the tragic event, people still go on making crimes that shock with the brutality and violence – and, which is even more terrifying, with their senselessness. So this is probably the author to ask the readers why – why nothing has changed. The spirit of the epoch that the murder was committed in was raving and mad, the city shot through with privilege and dirt. This was both grand and pathetic.
The paradox was to be fixed, at least in the book. And the postwar shifts in the society were to be marked somehow (Lesy 2007). Although Friedman considers the murder of a child or a woman as the action that is based on the idea of a man’s superiority twisted in one’s unhealthy mid (Friedman 1993, 215), it is still well understood that the bad family background is not the sufficient justification for the terrible crime. Though the court decision was not influenced by the inflamed speech of the barrister, the very fact that the two criminals had the chance to escape the death penalty was a fact to ponder. The injustice of what had happened struck the author and led him to writing the book. Hixson suggests another viewpoint, which emphasizes the influence of the epoch on the overall mood. He makes it clear that but for the idea of inner freedom far beyond any possible limit is the factor that led the two criminals to commit the murder. Referring to the “manipulation of evidence” (Hixson 2001, 266), he assumes that those to blame are the people who were conducting the case and the legal system of the early 20ies, which nearly helped the criminals to escape their punishment.
Despite the shame that such case was impaled with, nothing could be done about it, since the society was not ready to admit that in terms of the cruelty and the violence reigning around, the reality had surpassed any fiction. The jazz era was the ear of walking on the edge and acting under the spur of the moment – just for the thrill of it. After all, is it true that “the act of crime is always accompanied by illness” (Baatz 2009, 4). However hard it is to judge now whether it was the influence of the jazz era, or the bad family background of Leonard and Loeb, or anything else, it seems that a murder without a reason is the fact that there is something wrong not only with the culprits, but also with the society they live in. And the latter is the first not to be blamed, but to think hard why people act that way.
Why killing helpless victims? For the sake of what cruel goddess do they do that? Perhaps, just for the thrill of it.
Baatz, Simon. For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
Print. Friedman, Lawrence M. Crime and Punishment in the American History. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Print.
Hixson, Walter L. Murder, Culture and Injustice: Four Sensational Cases in American History. Ohio: University of Akron Press. 2001. Print.
Lesy, Michael. Murder City: the Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties. New York: Norton and Co., 2007.