WINDY CITY: A NOVEL OF POLITICS, by Scott Simon, Random House, 417 pages, $25

Scott Simon is better known as host of NPR's "Weekend Edition," but he occasionally writes a book, too, and he did a short stint as host of NBC-TV's Saturday edition of "Today."

In this political novel, Simon both celebrates and pokes fun at his hometown of Chicago, probably the most political city in the country. Anyone who remembers the first Mayor Richard Daly and realizes the second Mayor Richard Daly is his son, understands. This is the original city known as the place "to vote early and often."

So, Simon gives us a funny novel based on the hard truths of politically driven Chicago, which really is known as "the windy city" for political reasons, not the weather. This novel begins with the fictional mayor of Chicago, a 67-year-old fat man who is found one night in his office face down in a prosciutto-and-artichoke pizza wearing only boxer shorts emblazoned with the letters "Big Daddy."

Soon afterward it appears that rather than dying of a heart attack as first suspected, the mayor was murdered, actually poisoned. He was also about to blow the whistle on some members of his city council for corrupt behavior. Not that he was incorruptible himself.

It is left to Sundaran "Sunny" Roopini, an alderman of the 48th ward and vice mayor, to warm the dead mayor's seat. Roopini, who becomes interim mayor, doesn't really want the job, perhaps partly because he is basically a decent guy.

Because the new mayor is not a church-attender, he resists being sworn in with his hand on the Bible. Associates quickly think of many other books, "War and Peace," "Ulysses," "Leaves of Grass," maybe even Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. But Roopini finally asks, "Is there a subway map around here?"

Indeed, he places his palm on the Chicago subway map and formally takes the oath of office.

Through this rollicking story, Simon introduces the reader to a whole slew of colorful characters, including pinky-ringed pols, pious reformers, money-grubbers and wheeler-dealers of every kind. They all want to keep their beloved city of Chicago on an even keel during a time of terrorism.

It is difficult to figure out who would want to kill the mayor because he was simultaneously loved and despised equally. The police chief estimates that at least 50,000 people in Chicago had the impression that they knew the mayor personally.

Simon conclusively demonstrates through his clever choices in words just how well he knows "inside Chicago." His sentences are laced with familiar political words and a knowledge of Chicago cuisine, which any successful pol would have to know to mingle with diverse ethnic groups and be convincing.

According to Simon, any successful pol would have to be willing to eat any number of diverse foods, no matter how spicy, and never stop with just a few tastes, either. Someone not deep into politics and its excesses could have trouble with this story, but there will probably be little disputation about how well the author has portrayed Chicago politics.

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