LILLI KUZMA Contributor
“I love going back in history. I’ve always been extremely interested in how the past impacts the present,” said Libby Fischer Hellman of Northbrook.
Hellman is an award-winning author, whose recently published seventh novel, Set the Night on Fire (Allium Press, 2010), deftly alternates its time period from the late sixties to the present day. A thriller, it follows a group of young idealists, whose lives decades later continue to be affected and haunted by the past, with cover-ups, murder, relationship nuances, and political intrigue.
Hellman’s vivid descriptions of Chicago and the turbulence of the earlier time is more than a backdrop to a riveting story full of twists and turns, not to mention explosions, car chases, stalkers, and spies, romance and heartbreak.
She fully develops the characters in their youth, with all the arrogance and sureness of the moment, but then propels the story into the present, with an historically relevant assimilation that delivers a brilliant and taut page-turner.
The title is taken from the lyrics in “Light My Fire” by The Doors. Set in Chicago, Hellman’s novel liberally names towns, landmarks, and events well known to Windy City natives, something the author feels comfortable with, given that she has now lived in Chicago for over 30 years.
“Politics are so absolutely brazen here,” she said, chuckling.
A native of Washington, D.C., Hellman grew up with politics all around her, and the dominant topic of conversation in the household. As a young woman living in a Georgetown apartment, she spent one summer working for “Quicksilver,” an underground newspaper in D.C., recalling this as a time when everyone was so angry about the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
“These three things happened in such a compact time frame, and it seemed like the government didn’t do anything,” she said.
“I have a lot of understanding about this time period, but I also had a lot of unresolved feelings and disillusionment, and the book is kind of my exorcism,” Hellman continued. “I’ve felt a profound sadness about the way things turned out. Some people lost their lives. They were doomed. There was so much passion, commitment, and energy. We were looking to change the world. But neither succeeded — not politically or with the alternative lifestyle.”
Hellman paused, and noted: “But we did make progress on issues like women’s rights and the environment. And I’m now thinking of this time with more clarity. I’ve enjoyed finishing the era. I’m certainly not about to go back and live in a commune.”
Asked how different the sixties would have been if the likes of Facebook had been available, Hellman said:
“With Facebook? Oh, there would have been huge demonstrations. The (Vietnam) war focused people so much, you did not have to be a radical activist to be against it.”
Set the Night on Fire is notable as Hellman’s first ‘stand alone’ novel, as her prior six novels were mystery series with female sleuths, Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis. Hellman’s publishing credits also include her editing of Chicago Blues (October, 2007), an acclaimed anthology of crime stories, and Nice Girl Does Noir, her own two-volume collection of short stories published for E-readers in May, 2010.
Hellman is also active as a blogger with The Outfit Collective at http://www.theoutfitcollective.com. She is a past National President of Sisters in Crime, the organization of female mystery writers. Hellman has won numerous writing contests and awards, and her new book has been nominated for “Best Thriller of the Year,” to be decided at the upcoming “Love is Murder Mystery Conference” in Rosemont