Thursday, May 10, 2012
B Chris Bell's TALES OF THE BAGMAN
Author B Chris Bell was born and raised in Texas, and now lives somewhere in Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicago, and still live here. But Bell writes about Chicago as if he were born and raised here. Heck, he knows more about 1930s Chicago than I do! And that's the period in which he's set his wonderful novel, Tales of the Bagman: 1933 Chicago, during the last days of Prohibition.
The Bagman is one Frank "Mac" McCullough, a one-time courier and thug for a crime family during the First Great Depression. At an early age Mac's life took a major turn when he became an orphan, spent time in a reformatory, and then later got involved in the rackets. But he's always had a core of decency and honesty buried in his heart. So when he chooses to help and old family friend who got in hock to the Mob, Mac turns his back on crime and his Boss, Slots Lurie, and suddenly finds himself taking another turn on the road of life. In a last-minute decision to conceal his identity from the wiseguys he's hunting, Mac dons a paper bag over his head, and soon he's known as the mysterious Bagman. (Later he acquires a mask more appropriate to being a man of mystery, crime-fighting avenger.) And then, in the first part of this origin story, he becomes a fugitive wanted by both the Mob and the police.
At the center of this nicely-plotted, well-written, and exciting novel is Mac's wonderful, endearing personality. He's a good guy to have at your back, a good friend. And unlike most characters of this sort, he doesn't always use his brains --- which makes him all the more human and believable. What sets this novel apart, besides Bell's ability to tell a good story and develop solid characters, is Mac's friendship with a black mechanic and garage owner named Antoine "Crankshaft" Jones, a WWI hero and winner of the French Medal of Honor. Crankshaft has known Mac since Mac was a kid, and while he may play the part of reluctant sidekick, his relationship with Mac is one of equals, and more than that, the WWI vet is Mac's father-figure -- and even more than that, Crankshaft is often the brains, the logic, the reason that keeps Mac from going off the deep end, literally, into the Chicago River, if ya gets my drift, y'know? Their relationship is tight: they're friends who go wining and dining and hanging out in public -- a rarity in stories set in this period, and a rarity in real-life 1930s. Their affection and loyalty to each other is shown through the many battles against the Mob they -- or rather Mac -- get them into. Their repartee is rapid-fire, and the humor explodes off the pages along with the action, danger, and gun shots. There's even time for a little romance for Crankshaft, in the form of one lovely lady named Coco.
This is hard-boiled crime fiction, pulp fiction at it's best, with a flavor of old Chicago that recalled to my mind all the stories my Mom and Dad used to tell me. It rings so vivid and true you can smell the bootlegged booze, the old Chicago stockyards, and feel the breeze of the Windy City coming in off of Lake Michigan. I know many of the streets and locations where this novel takes place, and it added an extra dimension to my enjoyment. Mac the Bagman and Crankshaft Jones are a 2-man team of Untouchables, fighting crime in a souped-up, 1933 Graham "Blue Streak" Eight that Mac stole from gangster Slots Lurie. But his "monthly" payments are quite heavy, though, as poor Mac takes a lot of beatings and comes thisclose to death during many a tussle with the wiseguys. But somehow he always manages to bounce back in time to bounce the heads of the bad guys off the sidewalk and a few innocent walls.
Published by Airship27 Productions, you can purchase Tales of the Bagman, by B. C. Bell, at, www.robmdavis.com, (follow the Link to Airship 27 Hangar), and www.indyplanet.com, and www.amazon.com.
Trust me, this is an offer you can't refuse.
And yes, Chris Bell, I would be interested in reading how Mac would handle Dillinger at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.