One morning, when Michael Hainey was six years old, he learned that his father, Robert Hainey, an assistant copy desk chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, sometime during the night had died from a heart attack. For some reason, Michael felt that the story about how his father had died did not add up, and during work on a high school term paper – when he had to visit the main library in downtown Chicago – he looked up his father’s obituaries.
And behold: they did not add up.
Chicago Today claimed that the newspaperman had died “as he walked” in the 3900 block of North Pine Grove after he had “just left the home of a friend.” But in the Chicago Daily News it was reported that Robert Hainey had died “while visiting friends.” Furthermore, Michael learned that his father had not died from a heart attack but from a stroke, and that he had been taken to a hospital on the city’s North Side, “Not exactly the closest hospital for two cops to take a man they find lying on the streets downtown.” The time of death was also curious: 5.07 a.m. Which meant that Michael’s uncle, a newspaperman also, was at the Hainey house less than two hours after his younger brother’s death. And why was it his uncle who broke the news anyway? So what was going on here?
After Visiting Friends is “a son’s story” about the shadow cast by the father’s last night and death. But the book is larger than that. It is an investigation of a family and of times gone by, and it is a report on journalism then and now.
Like so many trades, journalism has its own code of honor, and this code turns out to be a major obstacle when Michael Hainey tries to understand what happened that April night in 1970. Journalists, who claim to constantly strive to reveal the truth, conceal it with the words, I don’t know anything about that night.
But the information is still out there and others want to help, and one of them tells the writer: “you will defeat your enemy with the one weapon that you have inside you that he cannot touch and that he trembles before – truth.”
Does this sound mysterious? If so, it’s not surprising. For After Visiting Friends is – in addition to everything else it is – a real life mystery.”