James Carlos Blake is the author of nine novels. Among his literary honors are the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Southwest Book Award, Quarterly West Novella Prize, and Chautauqua South Book Award. He lives in Arizona.
Blake (Under the Skin) is true to form in his latest fact-based crime novel. This one shares the plainspoken death-row recollections of "Handsome" Harry Pierpont, ruthless gangster and de facto leader of the Terror Gang, better known by the name of its most flamboyant member, John Dillinger. Harry is a bad, bad man, driven by vigorous appetites for sex and violence and a cruel streak that shows up early, when the 15-year-old hood urinates on the unconscious body of a boy he has beaten senseless with a baseball bat. Even when not smacking us in the kisser with such nasty grapefruit, Pierpont's jaunty, matter-of-fact delivery keeps the reader at arm's length. The banality of evil notwithstanding, the swift adventures of this bunch of perfidious pragmatists-breaking out of jails and into banks and reveling in the sheer mayhem of one of the greatest crime sprees in history-make for irresistibly compulsive reading. Fans of true crime and noir may enjoy this hybrid of James Ellroy and Max Allan Collins, together with authentic outlaw memoirs such as Edward Bunker's Education of a Felon or Jack Black's You Can't Win. For libraries with a crime readership.-David Wright, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Blake's eighth novel, like his recent Under the Skin (2003), stars an antihero narrator in a world of Depression-era crime. As Harry Pierpont, the self-described leader of the bank-robbing Dillinger Gang, awaits electrocution in Ohio for the murder of a sheriff, he recalls his adventures in a narrative that reads like a good as-told-to true crime story. His teenage criminal apprenticeship prepares him for a career as an "independent fundraiser," aka a stick-up man. With his friend Earl Northern, he holds up his first bank at 21; when their second heist goes awry, Harry ends up in the state reformatory, where he first meets John Dillinger. An escape attempt lands him in the Michigan City, Ind., state pen, and there Harry learns the systematized approach to bank robbery his gang will employ years later after Dillinger helps them escape. The heady account of the ensuing four-month crime spree has the gang taking down banks, buying new cars, mooning over women and shooting policemen in the face. Harry's voice is the smooth, almost affectless vernacular of a hardened con it's convincing, but it also keep readers at a certain distance. Add that to Harry's exhibited brutality, pitilessness and fixation on sex (the book has a lot of erections and much is made of the relative size of John and Harry's members), and Blake has created a deeply flawed character, eloquent enough to tell his tale but perhaps not perceptive enough to understand its significance. Fans of true crime and gangster stories will undoubtedly enjoy this "ripped from the history books" adventure as seen through Harry's lens of tough verisimilitude. 6-city author tour. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.