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It is The Era of Prohibition, where crime runs rampant in the streets and a city divided into territories serves as the ultimate prize. Somewhere in this Underworld of Chicago, an enchanted weapon holds the key to ending The Gangland Wars. In the wake of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, only one is man enough to stand up against Al Capone…
…a four-foot-one dwarf named Billibub Baddings.
Billibub Baddings is a survivor. A blokey bloke sort, the dwarf is accustomed to battle, to adjusting to his surroundings. But when, in the midst of battle in his home, Acryonis, he gets a bit too close to a portal, life as he knew it ends. He is transformed to 1927 Chicago, smack dab in the stacks of the Chicago Public Library.
Billi, a sarcastic, funny guy is forced through the portal and into Chicago and is given few options. One of which, surviving, is an opportunity he won’t squander. Instead of raging against his circumstance, he embraces it. He works his way through the library stacks, pilfering the librarian’s bag lunches and familiarizing himself with the history, politics and language of our world.
His adjustment wasn’t always what he’d consider noble. There was frequent stints portraying “Waldorf, the Protector of Munchkinland,” (thanks to the popularity of Wizard of Oz) when things got tight, but hey, a guy’s gotta eat. His true calling came in the form a P.I. work and so it was that the noble Captain Baddings adjusted to his new life and a new career. It wasn’t easy. When you’re 4’1 with a long red beard, folks will notice. But he proves himself to be a stealthy, formidable investigator and earns a reputation for covertness.
It’s when the heiress Julia Lesinger offers him triple his fee to find out why the notorious Al Capone had her boyfriend assassinated that things get a bit dicey.
Interspersed into the narrative, is the occasional reference to Billi’s Tolkienesque homeland, which endears the dwarf to the reader. The novel is a beautiful mashup up of portal fiction/noir/detective novel that keeps you guessing, wondering, luxuriating in the authentic Chicago dialog and scenery and in the audacious manner in which Billi gets his job done.
It would have been easy for Morris to give Billi a ‘Napoleon syndrome’ where the ‘little man’ overcompensates for his stature with vigor and violence. On the contrary, Billi comes across as a character completely at peace with who he is, as though it’s everyone else who is abnormal. He handles the reactions he receives with confidence and graceful hilarity:
It’s all right, ma’am. I know I’m probably not what you expected. You probably expected someone less handsome, less dashing, and not so much in the facial hair department. I can only say this: It ain’t easy being this good-looking.”
When I got the laugh, I knew we were getting somewhere. Humor was the best way to get over the whole dwarf issue. Now, it came down to the credentials.
“I know you may think a dwarf stands out in a crowd, and perhaps I do. But I can also get in and out of many places without being noticed. My specialty. It’s this specialty that has built me a reputation for being discreet. I’d love to give you a list of references, but how ‘private’ of a private investigator would that make me? And, being a dwarf, I tend to be left alone, and being left alone tends to keep my investigations all the more private. The proof of the pudding with me is my work, and let me tell you something: I make great pudding.”
It’s this kind of assured attitude that allows Billis to delve deep into Chicago’s underbelly and to discover that he wasn’t the only thing that thrown into the Windy City through the portal. The mysteries and plot are finely woven and Morris is an expert at hiding those threads until the last possible minute when the reader’s guesses fail to resolve the real villain, the correct resolution.
Funny, witty and highly entertaining, Billi’s adventures is one not to be missed. Philip Marlowe would be proud.