“A terrific novel. Absorbing and fast paced. The interplay of plot, style, and theory invites the reader to engage at multiple levels.”—Sandra Gustafson, University of Notre Dame

“A fascinating, compelling read. Its taut, lean prose, its noir-like plot, and most of all, its rich, darkly detailed characters absorbed me fully.”—Jacqueline Goldsby, University of Chicago

JOSEPH G. PETERSON lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters. He has published many short stories set in the city.

Beautiful Piece

Joseph G. Peterson

A gritty noir novel set during a Chicago heat wave

During a deadly Chicago heat wave that’s claiming hundreds of lives, Robert, who’s stuck in his apartment alone, fears he’s going to be the next victim. In the apartment above him lives a shell-shocked Vietnam veter­an who talks obsessively about the corpses of his war experience while alternately listening to Die Meistersinger and Madama Butterfly.

One day, Robert ventures forth into the searing heat to gas up his car. Immediately he encounters enigmatic Lucy who is trying to escape her brutal fiancé, Matthew Gliss. On a whim, Lucy invites Robert to her apartment where she shows him her mysterious tattoo and tells him of her dangerous life with Matthew Gliss. She warns Robert that if Matthew ever catches them together he should run, not walk, because Matthew won’t think twice of killing him. 

So begins the risky, short-lived relationship that leads to a chilling climax. Each of Robert’s increasingly hallucinatory recollections of what happened during the heat wave leads him to profoundly question his own culpability. This carefully crafted, gritty psychological tale offers a distinct urban flavor rich in metaphor and wordplay.


I had no intention of intruding on this guy’s woman. I no more wanted to take her than I wanted to rob a bank. But the vault was open so to speak, and there was money on the table, and no one was watching, so why not rob the bank? I needed the cash anyway and it was a perfectly simple thing to do. So when she said, Want to come home with me? I thought, Why the hell not? I can rob that bank. No one’s looking. It would be easy as pie.



I was talking to the Vet.

What if I should die suddenly in the middle of the night, as it were? Alone, as it were! Who would discover me? I have been living alone so long, people have stopped checking in on me to see how I’m doing.

He understood.

I understand, he said.

Let’s make a pact, I said, and so we made a pact between us to check in on each other regularly. He would knock on my door once in a while if he hadn’t heard from me or I would knock on his door once in a while if I hadn’t heard from him.

Let’s not wait until we smell the corpse on this one.

That would be ignominious, he said, and the Vet actually used that word: ‘ignominious.’ It was a lovely word, really, and I agreed with him.