MAD DOG by Jack Kelly


Email this review


While John Dillinger roams the Midwest robbing banks and breaking hearts, a minor flimflam man takes the Hoosier as his role model and finds professional success--in this melancholy criminal study by the author of Apalachin (1987) and Protection (1989). The nameless co-protagonist of Kelly's deft study of unsophisticated crime in an unsophisticated place and time is a down-at-the-heels con artist--one who makes his living selling miraculous, vaguely electric ""Kaiser Belts"" to impotent rubes until he is arrested and nearly lynched after being mistaken for America's most wanted criminal. The medicine man takes his sketchy resemblance to Dillinger to a one-ring circus and builds a successful sideshow act impersonating the bank robber, portraying his latest crimes, and telling the folks how he feels. The circus and the criminal work the same territory--the underpopulated and underpaid heart of America at the height of the Depression--allowing the impersonator to get closer and closer to his model, eventually even meeting Billie Frechette, Dillinger's half-Indian mistress. Abandoned by Dillinger shortly before his Main Street execution, Billie herself turns to the performance circuit, parading before the crowds of small-town people who instinctively recognized her boyfriend as one of their own and who can never hear enough about him. Kelly occasionally succumbs to the temptations of poetry and elevated style, but for the most part he is bang-on in this poignant black-and-white sketch of inept crimes, modest criminals, and gray times.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atheneum