Libby Fischer Hellman on SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE

A review of SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE was posted on Murder By Type on January 14.  The following is an interview with the author that was published in the Evanston Review on January 27.

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.

Libby Fischer Hellmann | Photo by Jason Creps

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.

Past to present

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.”

Some progress

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 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

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Libby Fischer Hellman on SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE

  1. kathy d. says:

    I’m still an idealist but not a pollyanna-type, but one who wants peace, women’s, LGBT, workers’ rights, no bigotry or discrimination against anyone, civil liberties, an end to world hunger and poverty, with housing, nutritious food and vaccinations, antibiotics and medical care for everyone worldwide.
    Anyway until this occurs, I do what I can, and meanwhile I read.
    And one author whose books I will read this year are Libby Fischer Hellmann, especially since I grew up in Hyde Park, and love Chicago.
    But where do I start? Are there two series with Foreman and Davis, or do they co-sleuth? And does it matter if I start later in the series? And which are particularly good? (My library may not have the entire series, so that’s why I’m asking) And are they are situated in Chicago, where I left my heart at age 13?
    (A wonderful thing now is google maps; I can find my then-apartment building; what a thrill–54th St. & Kimbark, where I’d read on August nights on a little terraced in porch)

  2. Beth says:

    Unfortunately, Kathy, I think your goals aren’t likely to be reached; greed is a strong motivator for those who can make a difference to not choose to do so.

    There are changes that the anger of the 60’s birthed. There is the Equal Rights Amendment that in turn led to equal pay for equal work. The civil rights laws have helped but racism cannot be eradicated by legislation.

    Hunger and homelessness can be but it isn’t in the best interests of the majority party to do so. It wasn’t in the best interests of the party that was the majority until the last election.


  3. kathy d. says:

    I look at the good and positive developments as steps toward the greater good, and I look at the people who are the majority.
    I take heart from the Egyptian people, who are the vast majority and are peacefully and earnestly protesting a brutal billionaire dictator, led by youth. I met two Egyptian cab drivers today, and they were heartening to hear, full of hope and pride and love of their people. I cried twice today on those cab rides, feeling great empathy and affection, while wishing them well.
    I am around people who are optimists, but realists. And I grew up with optimists, who went through hard times, but never lost the undercurrent of hope.
    And, so I look for the good in people, for the positive steps forward, while I, of course, get angry at the awful things.
    But as a friend of mine said, there is no answer to cynicism. I won’t live that way. I’ll continue to take heart from the good folks and what they do, and do my part, and then when I can’t, I read mysteries and watch MSNBC and good movies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s