Books Set in Illinois – Books Set in Chicago

Book: Good Cop, Bad Cop – Chicago Novel

Author: D’Amato, Barbara
Forge 1998

“A Tom Doherty Associates book” In 1969 Chicago, “Nicholas Bertolucci was a rookie cop assigned to raid a Panther hideout. Three innocent victims died in the shootout, but the story was quickly hushed up. Years later, Nick has become Chicago’s police superintendent. and his older brother, Aldo, a down-on-his-luck cop and a perpetual screwup, is filled with hate for his successful brother. When Aldo discovers a terrible secret from the past that could topple Nick and leave the CPD in tatters, the reader is left to watch in horror as the juggernaut rolls inexorably toward an explosive climax.” -Booklist

A Shortcut in Time

Author: Dickinson, Charles
Forge 2003

“A Tom Doherty Associates book”
“Josh Winkler’s settled life changes when he chooses a shortcut to town and ends up 15 minutes in the past. On the same path, he meets Constance, another bewildered time traveler from the year 1908. No one believes them, especially Josh’s doctor wife, who orders neurological tests. To validate their experiences, Josh researches Constance’s disappearance in the local library’s newspaper archives and discovers that Constance’s boyfriend, a suspect in her disappearance, was hanged by an angry mob; Constance needs to find her way back to 1908 to prevent his death.” Libr J
“Dickinson conjures a notably mundane environment, then makes it extraordinary” -Booklist

Reign in Hell – Illinois Novel

Diehl, William
Ballantine 1997

“Illinois state attorney general Vail is called upon by President Lawrence Pennington to seek a trial case against one of the largest militia outfits in the country. The leader of this outfit, Gen. Joshua Engstrom, just happens to be an old adversary of the president, putting Vail in the middle of a dangerous situation. Vail must also relive the past when unwillingly faced with his nemesis from years ago, serial killer Aaron Stampler, who has now become blind Brother Transgression. The meshing of these storylines is intricate yet easily followed as the tension mounts.” -Libr J

See our directory of all Great Lakes States pages

A Little Girl in Old Chicago – Books Set in Chicago

Douglas, Amanda M.
NY: Burt. 1904

Amanda M. Douglas (1831-1916) was raised in New York city and lived as an adult in New Jersey. This novel is one of many in her “Little Girl” series; stories set in various U.S. cities for young audiences. Among other books, she also authored a “Helen Grant” series which was more of a ‘college girl’ genre.

Sister Carrie

Dreiser, Theodore

“A powerful account of a young working girl’s rise to the ‘tinsel and shine’ of worldly success, and of the slow decline of her lover and protector Hurstwood.”

The Konkans – Chicago Novel

D’Souza, Tony
Harcourt 2008

“Narrator Francisco D’Sai descends partially from a small group of Konkans, former Hindus converted to Catholicism by the Portuguese in the 16th century. His American mother, Denise, met and married his father, Lawrence, while working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s. The couple moves to Chicago, where Francisco is born and where Lawrence is obsessed with assimilation and achieving the American dream. In contrast, Francisco’s uncle Sam, whom Denise insists they sponsor to America, is a much more soulful man who retains his Indian identity. Sam tells fabulous tales of Konkan culture and is adored by both Francisco and Denise, whose infatuation with India persists even as her love for Lawrence dwindles.” -Publ Wkly
This is “more than an ethnographic study—D’Souza stays character-focused throughout the novel, gently mixing irony and fatalism with a warm affection for humans and the stupid things they do.” -Washington City Paper.

I Sailed with Magellan – Books Set in Chicago

Dybek, Stuart
Farrar, Straus 2003

The “episodes that intersect and surround young Perry Katzek’s upbringing in the Polish-Mexican ghetto of Chicago’s South Side are simultaneously daring and compassionate, intimate in detail and mythic in scale. Dybek has the rare ability to dart back and forth in time and slide around recklessly in space while carrying the reader effortlessly with him.” -Washington Post Book World.

The Graysons; a Story of Illinois – Book Set in Illinois

Eggleston, Edward
NY: Century. 1887

“Another detailed picture of the turbulent life of the pioneers; the scene is Illinois, and Abraham Lincoln is introduced as counsel in a trial for murder. He convicts the leading witness of perjury and brings the guilt home to him.” – Guide to Historical Fiction, 1914′
Edward Eggleston (1837-1902) was born in Vevay, Indiana. He was both a novelist and a historian, authoring several texts of U.S. history.

More of Eggleston’s novels are at: Great Lakes Novels and Historical Fiction and Indiana Novels and Historical Fiction

Studs Lonigan; a Trilogy – Books Set in Chicago

Farrell, James T.
Vanguard 1935

Contents: Young Lonigan (1932); The young manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934); Judgment day (1935). A trilogy “about life among lower-middle-class Irish Roman Catholics in Chicago during the first third of the 20th century… As a boy, William Lonigan (always referred to as ‘Studs’) makes a slight effort to rise above his squalid urban environment. However, the combination of his own personality, unwholesome neighborhood friends, a small-minded family, and his schooling and religious training all condemn him to the life of futility and dissipation that are his inheritance.” -Merriam-Webster’s Ency of Lit

The American; a Middle Western Legend – Book Based in Illinois

Fast, Howard
Duell 1946

“Biographical. novel based on the life of John Peter Altgelå, who was a midwestern politician, governor of Illinois, from 1893-1897, a friend of the working man, and a lawyer and judge. The book begins with his poverty-stricken youth, describes his painful rise, his successes and failures, and his death.” -Book Rev Digest
“Told with distinction and with barely enough fictional trimmings to justify calling it a novel.” -New Yorker

So Big

Ferber, Edna
Doubleday 1924

Winner of the 1925 Pulitzer Prize. “Selina DeJong would look up from her work and say, ‘How big is my man?’ Then little Dirk DeJong would answer in the time-worn way, ‘So-O-o big!’ And he was so nicknamed. Though So Big gives the book its title his mother is the outstanding figure. Until Selina was nineteen she traveled with her gambler-father. At his sudden death she secured a teacher’s post in the Dutch settlement of High Prairie, a community of hardworking farmers and their thrifty, slaving wives—narrow-minded people indifferent to natural beauty. Soon Selina married Pervus DeJong, a plodding, goodnatured boy. With her marriage the never-ending drudgery of a farmer’s wife began. Through all the years of hardship she never lost her gay indomitable spirit. Unfortunately. she was unable to transmit these qualities to her son.”

Journey in the Dark – Chicago Novel

Flavin, Martin
Harper 1943

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 1944. “Against the sweep and growth of sixty years of American life, Martin Flavin tells an impressively moving story about a ‘successful’ man. ‘Journey in the Dark’, this year’s Harper prize novel, is the story of Sam Braden but it is also the story of the little town of Wyattville, Iowa, where he was born in 1883, and the story of Chicago, where he amassed his wealth. The town changed, the boy changed, the great city of the West changed, the years putting their mark on all of them. America was on the march, carrying with it the strong and the ambitious, and Sam Braden was both strong and ambitious.” -NY Herald Tribune Bk R.

See our Detective Stories PDF

Can Such Things Be? A Story of a White Slave – Books Set in Chicago

Gleeson, William
Chicago: 1915

An early book about the trafficking of girls and women in the U.S. – specifically, in Chicago.

Struck a Lead; an Historical Tale of the Upper Lead Region – Illinois Historical Fiction

Goodhue, James M.
Chicago: Jameson & Morse. 1883

James M. Goodhue (1810-1852) was born in New Hampshire and migrated west as a young man. He lived about three years in Plainfield, Illinois and then was a lawyer and newspaperman in Lancaster, Wisconsin. When Minnesota territory opened for settlement he moved to St. Paul and established the first newspaper in Minnesota. He was well-known for a lively writing style.

See our Illinois historic maps

Black Partridge, or, The Fall of Fort Dearborn – Illinois Historical Fiction

Gordon, H. R.
NY: E. P. Dutton. 1906

Col. H.R. Gordon was one of many pseudonyms used by Edward Sylvester Ellis (1840-1916). Ellis authored dozens of adventure stories for boys.

“Auric Kingdom, a Fort Wayne lad, his chum, Jethro Judd of Fort Dearborn and Black Partridge, the Pottawatomie chief and friend of the white man, are the most prominent figures in this story which culminates in the destruction of Fort Dearborn. The book is full of adventure, of bad Indians, brave settlers, and the woodcraft dear to all boy hearts.”
– The Book Review Digest

Ascent Into Hell

Greeley, Andrew M.
Warner 1983

“A Bernard Geis Associates book”. Second volume of the author’s Passover trilogy begun with Thy Brother’s Wife.
“Hugh Donlon fulfills his parents’ wish that he become a Catholic priest. He then wrangles with his superiors, impregnates a nun and leaves the active priesthood to marry her, has numerous extramarital affairs, gets rich in commodities trading. becomes an ambassador, is jailed for shady financial dealings, and finally must decide whether to return to the active ministry or marry the woman he has always loved.” Libr J
“The narrative is packed with substance, strong characterizations and startling insights into Catholic politics, doctrine and attitudes.” Publ Wkly
Followed by ‘Lord of the Dance’

Irish Lace

Greeley, Andrew M.
Perennial Classics 2XXX

“A Tom Doherty Associates book”. One of four novels featuring Nuala McGrail; previous titles Irish gold published 1994, latter titles Irish whiskey and Irish mist, published 1998 and 1999 respectively. This novel “finds the winsome 20-year-old recently transplanted from Ireland to Chicago. Nuala is romantically involved with Dermot Coyne—just the back-up she requires, given her penchant for attracting dicey situations. Nuala’s ‘gift,’ experiencing visions from the past, allows the plot to careen back to Camp Douglas. a Union prison in Civil War-era Chicago. From thence the story proceeds. . . . to envelop a contemporary art theft, Irish terrorists, and corrupt city officials.” Libr J
“Moving effortlessly between the (fictional) conspiracies of 1864 and 1995 Chicago, Greeley is at his top page-turning form, throwing in a few stinging words about racism and xenophobia and delivering a rousing defense of the Bill Of Rights.” Publ Wkly. Books set in Chicago.

See our collection of Short Stories PDF Free


Hailey, Arthur
Doubleday 1968

“In the space of a single night at the Lincoln International Airport nearly every imaginable man, machine or function goes wrong. One of the worst snowstorms in history has been raging over the airport for three days. The longest and widest runway is blocked by a mired Boeing 707. A traffic controller is suicidally depressed. And a Rome-bound flight lifts off with a man carrying a bomb in his briefcase. How Airport Manager Mel Bakersfield and a score of other characters cope provides the (plot of this novel).” -Time
“Here are many minor conflicts—of love, sex, business, and psychological problems—all building up to the tremendously exciting scenes of a shattered transoceanic plane trying to make its way back to the airport, and a runway that can’t, but must, be cleared.” Publ Wkly.

The Wilderness and the War Path

Hall, James.
NY: Wiley. 1849

James Hall (1793-1868) lived in Ohio and Illinois, editing a magazine in Cincinnati. He authored many stories of adventure on the western frontier and at that time was considered one of the most talented writers in the ‘West’.

See more works by James Hall at: Ohio Novels and Historical Fiction; and
– a biographical chapter about James Hall in Venable, William H., Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley; Historical and Biographical Sketches in Great Lakes Region Cultural History

If This World Were Mine

Harris, E. Lynn
Doubleday 1997

“Members of a monthly journal-writing group, four African American friends from college days who all live in the Chicago area, help each other through the dramas of their respective lives. They’re all approaching 40 and looking for answers: Riley Woodson, a self-proclaimed Black Princess immured in a stultifying marriage; Yolanda Williams, a media consultant; gay psychiatrist Leland Thompson; and Dwight Scott, a computer engineer simmering with hatred for white people. . . A supple raconteur, Harris explores the intimacies of friendship with a sensitive eye.” Publ Wkly. Books set in Illinois, books set in Chicago.

The Secret

Hoffman, Eva
Public Affairs 2002

“The time is 2022, the place is Chicago, and Iris Surrey has an unusually close relationship with her chilly mother, Elizabeth. At 17, Iris is wearying of the odd stares she triggers in others, especially when her look-alike mother is with her. Iris wants to learn the identity of her father, which, alas, is not possible; the reader will figure out before Iris does that she is the product of genetic engineering. When Iris uncovers the truth, she goes on an emotional rampage, intent on tracking down any blood relatives in the hope that they will make her feel more authentic.” Libr J
This work “is compelling throughout for Hoffman’s prose, for her insights on identity, for her reflections on history.” -N Y Times Book Rev

Old ‘Kaskia Days

Holbrook, Elizabeth
Chicago: Schulte. 1893

Elizabeth Holbrook was from Randolph county, Illinois, the home of Kaskaskia. Her novel is said to have closely followed what was known about the town’s history. Books set in Illinois.

See also: Schlarman, J.H. PhD., From Quebec to New Orleans: The Story of the French in America in Great Lakes General History

See our free Illinois travel books

A Desperate Woman

Holmes, M.E.
Chicago: Laird & Lee 1886

Ella Lincoln, or, Western Prairie Life. An Autobiography

Hopkins, Eliza A.
Boston: French. 1857

Eliza Ann Woodruff Hopkins (1813-1878) was born in New Jersey. In 1837 she married Charles Hopkins and went with him to the western frontier. He went further west to California in 1850 to search for gold and did not return for 13 years, leaving her to raise their children. In Illinois she wrote for the Joliet Signal and the True Democrat, then moved east to Pennsylvania and later Boston, where she continued to write, primarily for newspapers.

The Mississippi Bubble; How the star of good fortune rose and set and rose again, by a woman’s grace, for one John Law of Lauriston

Hough, Emerson
Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill 1902

Emerson Hough (1857-1923) was an American author best known for writing western stories and historical novels. Raised in Newton, Iowa, he graduated from the University of Iowa and was admitted to the bar in 1882. He lived in New Mexico for a time, which helped him with the background for his westerns. After he married a Chicago woman in 1897 he moved to Chicago permanently.

Hough was a conservationist who, among other causes, worked for creation of a national park system. He also wrote an out-of-doors column for the Saturday Evening Post. The Mississippi Bubble, one of the best-selling of his many books, is a historical novel that revolves around the story of John Law and an economic bubble of speculative investment in the French colony of Louisiana.
– Wikipedia entries for Hough and The Mississippi Bubble.

See more of Emerson Hough’s works at: Fiction – Novels from Authors G & H


Jakes, John
Doubleday 1993

First volume in the author’s Crown family chronicles. “In 1892, a Berlin Street urchin named Pauli Kroner, 14 years old, scrapes up steerage fare for America with the help of his dying Aunt Lotte. Pauli is robbed of his papers and what little money he has just before his arrival. But he still manages to pass Customs and make his way to Chicago, where his uncle is one of the city’s leading brewers. . . . Paul yearns to be a painter, but lacks the skill. George Eastman’s recent invention, the Kodak camera, offers him a chance to overcome that problem. When Paul has a chance to assist in the birth of cinematography. his life’s course is set.” N Y Times Book Rev
“Chockfull of fascinating period detail, Jakes’ captivating story brings to life the sounds, smells, and tastes of turn-of-the-century America.” Publ Wkly.
Followed by American Dreams. Book that takes place in Chicago.

See our Free PDF Magazine Back Issues

An Unfinished Season

Just, Ward
Houghton Mifflin 2004

“Set in 1950’s Chicago during a single summer, this novel recounts the story of the owner of a printing company, the narrator’s father, who is on the management side of a vicious union dispute and begins to carry a gun. Wilson Raven, his son, takes a summer job at a scandal rag, where no amount of ink on his sleeves lives down the day he arrives at work wearing his bowed dancing shoes from debutante balls on the ritzy North Shore.” -Economist
“Even if the setting of Just’s . . novel is the Midwest instead of Washington, Saigon or Paris, the territory is familiar: it’s the world of memory tinged with regret. It’s the early 1950s, the dawn of the cold war and the Red scare. . . This is vintage Just: elegant writing that captures the wounded spirit of the times.” -Newsweek

Zury, the Meanest Man in Spring County; a novel of western life

Kirkland, Joseph
Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1887

“Illinois in the pioneer days, portraying the homely, colourless life of the prairies, and the moral forces that were destined to act powerfully in the next generation. Lincoln appears.” – Guide to Historical Fiction, 1914

Joseph Kirkland (1830-1894) was a businessman in Chicago and a Union officer in the Civil War. He founded a Midwestern literary periodical called Prairie Chicken, and also worked as a lawyer. In addition to the two novels on this page, he authored The Story of Chicago.

The McVeys (an episode)

Kirkland, Joseph
Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1888

Sequel to “Zury, the Meanest Man in Spring County”, also on this page.

The Log Cabin; or, The World Before You

Lee, Hannah F.
Philadelphia: Appleton. 1847

Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee (1780-1865) also wrote a history of the Huguenots, biographies of Pierre Toussaint and Thomas Cranmer, and sketches of the lives of famous painters.

Ongon: A Tale of Early Chicago

Loux, Dubois H.
NY: 1902

Children of the Market Place

Masters, Edgar Lee
NY: Macmillan. 1922

Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) grew up in Lewistown, Illinois and moved to Chicago in 1892, where he was a law partner of Clarence Darrow. He is mainly known for his poetry, especially for his best-selling collection Spoon River Anthology. He published approximately 40 books during his career. While this one is ostensibly the story of an English immigrant to Illinois in pioneering days, it presents Stephen A. Douglas as representative of the American spirit. 1833-61.

An historical novel In the form of a fictitious autobiography of an Englishman who, as a youth of eighteen, came to America where his father had preceded him and, dying, had left him an estate in Illinois. He landed in the New York of 1833 and traveled by canal, lake and stage to Illinois, finally taking up his residence in Chicago. His life develops with the growth of this pioneer region and, thru his early meeting with young Stephen Douglas and life-long friendship with him, becomes a panorama of the history and politics of the country in the stormy period which led up to the Civil war. The canvas is so broad that a full cross-section of history is shown. The story of Douglas rather overshadows the hero’s own. Lincoln, too, Is shown, appearing out of obscurity, encountering the “little giant,” coming into the presidency. And then the war! A brief epilogue brings the book to the beginning of this century, with a rapid summing-up of America’s new problems, social and political. – Booklist

The Glenns: A Family History

McConnel, John Ludlum
NY: Scribner. 1851

McConnel (1826-1862), son of a prominent pioneer in Jacksonville, Illinois, was considered by the eastern literary establishment to be second only to James Hall (see above) as an early Illinois writer of fiction. He served as a captain in the Mexican War, where he was seriously wounded. McConnel focused most of his energy on his legal and political career but continued to write short stories until his untimely death at 36 – a result of his battle wounds. Books that take place in Illinois.

Western Characters, or Types of Border Life in the Western States

McConnel, John L.
NY: Redfield. 1853

See the note at McConnel’s book above.

Gentle Ann: A Tale of the Sangamon – Illinois Historical Fiction

McNamar, Myrtle
NY: Beacon. 1943

Myrtle Leoan Garrison McNamar (1884-1969) was born in California and became the editor of her husband’s newspaper in Cottonwood, CA. In addition to writing a number of novels and a history of the state of Oregon, she was a family historian. Her husband was a direct descendant of the McNamar in Gentle Ann.

The Totem of Black Hawk: A tale of pioneer days in northwestern Illinois & the Black Hawk war – Illinois Historical Fiction

McNeil, Everett
Chicago: McClurg. 1914

Henry Everett McNeil (1862-1929) was born in Stoughton, Wisconsin and was a leading author of novels for young people in the 1910s and 1920s.

A story of pioneer life in northwestern Illinois in the eighteen-thirties. The Clays, father, mother and three children, are among the first settlers in the Rock river valley, and the story follows all the incidents of the making of a frontier home, the building of the log house, the hunt for meat, and so on. Later comes the outbreak of the Black Hawk war, the capture of Mrs. Clay and the children, and their escape from death by virtue of the little image worn by Ruth—a little black hawk carved in stone which had been given her by an Indian girl she had befriended.
– Book Review Digest. Books set in Illinois.

See the resources on this site for: The Black Hawk War of 1832

Prairie Avenue – Book Set in Chicago

Meeker, Arthur
Knopf 1949

“Prairie Avenue on Chicago’s south side was once a scene of wealth and display, where newly rich Chicagoans enjoyed the naive ostentation of their homes and social life. Ned left there with an aunt in 1885, returned again and again until 1918 to see the changing scene, to learn gradually of some of the pettiness and vice carefully concealed under Victorian propriety, and to appreciate the simple goodness also. The young people moved to other, more fashionable, locations and the grandeur faded, for the makers of Chicago were gone and ‘it was the strong old roosters and their spectacular wives who had set the pace.’ Fictional social history of more than local appeal.” -Booklist.

The Distinguished Guest – Book Set in Chicago

Miller, Sue
HarperCollins 1995

“The guest of the title is a woman who in her seventies wrote a celebrated memoir about being the wife of the radical minister of an integrated church in Chicago, and who eventually split with her husband over issues of black separatism and militancy. Now in her Parkinson’s-afflicted eighties, she is visiting her architect son, whose view of his mother is necessarily different from her public image. This novel, as full of rich domestic detail as Miller’s previous books, is, like them, a work of consolation informed by a psychotherapeutic perspective—very literal, yet also highly readable.” -New Yorker

Family Pictures – Book Set in Chicago

Miller, Sue
Harper & Row 1990

This novel chronicles “forty years in the lives of the Eberhardts, a Chicago family. David and Lainey’s third child, Randall, is autistic. ‘According to the experts of the ’50s, the fault is Lainey’s for unconsciously rejecting her infant son; David—himself a psychiatrist—agrees with them. A few decades later science will absolve her, but the shock and pain of her husband’s betrayal throw a curse on their relationship that is never quite dispelled.” Newsweek
“‘Family Pictures’ is a novel that might have intrigued and startled Woolf—profoundly honest, shapely, ambitious, engrossing, original and true, an important example of a new American tradition that explores what it means, not to light out for the territories but to make a home, live at home and learn what home is.” -N Y Times Book Rev

The Deep End of the Ocean – Books Set in Chicago

Mitchard, Jacquelyn
Viking 1996

“When 3-year-old Ben Cappadora disappears from a hotel lobby in Chicago, a presumed kidnap victim, nothing positive ever comes from his loss. The family he leaves behind is ruined. Ben’s father, Pat. a kindly restaurateur, develops cardiac problems—the victim of a literal broken heart. His mother, Beth, becomes an emotional zombie. Vincent, the 7-year-old who was watching Ben when he disappeared, grows into a high-I.Q. juvenile delinquent. Baby Kerry has lived in a mournful. hostile house for so long she thinks it’s normal.” -N Y Times Book Rev
“One of the most remarkable things about this rich, moving and altogether stunning first novel is Mitchard’s assured command of narrative structure and stylistic resources. Her story about a child’s kidnapping and its enduring effects upon his parents, siblings, and extended family is a blockbuster read.” -Publ Wkly.

Knock on Any Door – Book Set in Illinois

Motley, Willard
Appleton 1947

“The story of Nick Romano, who began as choir boy, and dreamed of one day becoming a priest, but whose life instead brings him to the electric chair. In reading this book we understand why this happened, what omissions and commissions of our society bring this tragedy.” – Literary Guild.

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