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Nice guy Steven Sidor plots violent thrillers so well he scares himself. Libby Fischer Hellmann’s latest detective novel helped her cope with dark fears about her daughter’s first year at a chichi north-suburban high school. And both Sharon Fiffer and Achy Obejas use the mystery form as a way to investigate a lost past—Obejas’s in Cuba, Fiffer’s in Kankakee. We may read their books to escape, but these Chicago area crime authors (and editor) work to engage.

The very fact that we’ve been able to assemble this diverse, successful group says something. Chicago’s always been famous for crime, but not for making literature out of it. That was something they did on the coasts—a tradition established by masters like LA’s Raymond Chandler and New York’s Dashiell Hammett, each of whom made his city seem inextricable from the genre. Chicago’s a writers’ town, sure. But detective-story writers? Sara Paretsky, and who else? Scott Turow?

Now Paretsky’s got company, as her membership in the Outfit, a crime writers’ collective founded by Hellmann, attests. Let’s not use the word “burgeoning” yet, but “healthy” doesn’t seem out of line.

We did a little digging on a few local practitioners. Here’s what we turned up on them. —Tony Adler