Another historical crime novel haunted by dark killer angels from Blake (Under the Skin, 2003, etc.), whose seductive sentences often prompt comparison to the hard lyric twang of Cormac McCarthy’s strings.
Once again, we meet a hell-bent protagonist who rules others through his intelligence, pride, and lust for violence as he conducts a doomed rebellion against society. Here, it’s Handsome Harry Pierpont, original member of Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger’s gang, now in the death house and awaiting the electric chair in the morning. The story then turns back to the late 1920s and ’30s, describing various stints of jail time and the joys of bank robbing in between. At 16, Harry first gets into trouble while boosting a car—he’s lost count of the many he’s already stolen—and shooting its owner through the leg. After two years in state reformatory, he’s paroled but can’t bear regular work, so he takes up petty theft and teams with Earl Northern to take on bank jobs. Meanwhile, he’s fallen for Earl’s 16-year-old sister Mary. Exciting though the bank jobs are, the takings run thin, and if things can go wrong they always do. During Harry’s second prison term, he meets bright young John Dillinger. As incorrigible as he is handsome, Harry repeatedly finds himself naked in the hole without a blanket. He fails in several jailbreak attempts, finally succeeding with the paroled Dillinger’s help. But then John ends up back in a small Indiana jail, so Harry and his gang break him out, a cop dies, and the thieves go on a bank-robbing spree that last five months before Harry is recaptured. Will Dillinger free him again?
Fewer wild woodnotes than usual, but masterful detail with a steady current of electric storytelling.