Accidents cause heroes and heroes cause accidents, G.W. Kennedy writes near the end of “A Necessary Hero,” the story of two friends and their entwined families during the critical years after the United States became involved in World War II. America was losing the fight.

University of Chicago graduate students Thomas Kilkenny and John Mackenzie Simmons III (“Mack”) analyze history and, over beer and whiskey and more beer and whiskey, discuss epic events in world history and debate the role of chance, opportunity and human leadership. Both young men are bright, upper-class scholars. Tommy’s father is a powerful and wealthy alderman in Chicago’s South Shore with reputed ties to the Mob; Mack’s father is a powerful and wealthy divorce lawyer living in Winnetka.

Two crashes frame one aspect of this story. A drunken Tommy drives his car into an embankment. He walks away unhurt but Mack is permanently blinded in one eye. Their paths diverge but their friendship remains, as Tommy enters the war effort to become a fighter pilot and Mack, physically unfit for duty, works the graveyard shift in a plant where parts for bombers are manufactured.

Tommy’s life ends in the Philippines, as he kamikazes his burning B-17 bomber into a Japanese warship, having first ordered his crew out of the plane. Mack’s task is to make Tommy into the hero the country desperately needs to boost its morale.

Not all of the country is behind the war effort. Sympathizers and soldiers of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who may be collaborating with the Nazis against Great Britain, have infiltrated Chicago politics. The blood-and-guts of “A Necessary Hero” involves thwarting an IRA plot here that has the potential to change the outcome of the war.

G.W. Kennedy, a retired professor of English at University of Illinois-Chicago, is also the author of the Professor Ben Barklee mysteries “Purpose Pitch,” “Dead Arm” and “Save Situation.” “A Necessary Hero” is available at

Readers may enjoy references to 1940s Chicago. Mr. Kennedy’s use of racial slurs, however typcial of that time they may be, are cringe-inducing. Perhaps a preferable strategy would have been to use Black or African American. Though such a choice would literally be anachronistic, it would have been less jarring.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...