Saturday, July 22, 2017

G-Man by Stephen Hunter

There are a lot of good reasons why G-Man is a great book, and one or two anomalies that simply prove that all fiction must be flawed in some way. Stephen Hunter has written many fine books, but my favorites are Hot Springs and Pale Horse Coming. These are adventure novels, or what was once called “men’s adventure stories” of the style that once populated such saucy magazines as True Adventures or Real Men. Hunter, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his non-fiction articles for The Washington Post, is no stranger to gangsters, gunmen, gun molls and snipers. His fictional saga of the Swagger family, Earl and Bob Lee, are mandatory reading. G-Man is advertised on the dust-jacket as a “Bob Lee Swagger Novel” but that’s not true. G-Man is about Bob Lee’s grandfather, Charles, and it’s about John Dillinger; but mostly it’s about Baby Face Nelson. The present day sequences with Bob Lee investigating his grandfather’s past are nominal, at best, and could easily have been cut. The book’s best scenes are those with the gangsters in 1934. Hunter has done his homework and probably visualizes the best description and character studies of Dillinger, Nelson and company, albeit in a highly fictionalized manner. I suspect that Hunter’s view of these men is accurate, and my opinion comes from having read numerous non-fiction accounts. Hunter also earns points by asserting that it was Baby Face Nelson’s final gunfight that was the highlight, not Dillinger’s rather ignoble killing at Chicago’s Biograph Theater. Baby Face Nelson was killed on November 27, 1934 in what is now referred to as “The Battle of Barrington, Illinois” which also resulted in the deaths of FBI Agents Ed Hollis and Sam Cowley. The battle occurred in Langendorf Park just off Route 14 (Northwest Highway) and today visitors can find a commemorative plaque in the park honoring the slain FBI Agents. The plaque is situated next to the parking lot landscaped with asphalt and concrete and shadowed by the Barrington Park District building. Interested readers can google the old newspaper clipping showing that spot with the FBI car and Nelson’s car at the park entrance when the area was still mostly farmland. Hunter’s description of that gun battle and others appears to be meticulously researched. He doesn’t quite master the Route 14 towns in their correct order from east to west, but the gunfights are vividly depicted. G-Man makes for some riveting summer reading. Having fired a Thompson machine-gun myself, I appreciate Stephen Hunter’s factual assessment of the firearms used by the many players. All of Hunter’s books are rich in gun lore. G-Man is a thrilling novel, not quite perfect, but solid and well crafted. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Westward Ho! Song Wagon of the West by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

This 2017 Jasmine Records CD compilation is a must have for Roy Rogers fans. Featuring 61 songs on two CDs that highlights his career, many of Rogers’ best are included. His marriage to co-star Dale Evans in 1947 only added to his fame, as well as their growing musical catalog. Evans was an accomplished singer and songwriter, and this collection includes many duets with her husband and several wonderful solo songs. Naturally, her two best known compilations, “Happy Trails” and “The Bible Tells Me So” (two versions, both duets) are included. Many of the recordings are real gems, especially those that Rogers recorded with the Sons of the Pioneers. Additional recordings feature Mitch Miller and the Norman Luboff choir. Popular Western classics included are “I Ride an Old Paint,” “Home on the Range,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Bury Me Out on the Lone Prairie,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “That Palomino Pal of Mine” and more. Rogers also showcases his talent with such film score songs made famous by others such as “Old Man River” (sung by Paul Robeson in Show Boat), and “River of No Return” (famously recorded by Marilyn Monroe in the film of the same name). There are so many stand-out recordings among the 60-plus selections that I give this compilation the highest recommendation. Roy and Dale were devout Christians and many of their religious recordings will bring back fond memories, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Since Jesus Came into My Heart” are among the songs that close out the track listing. The liner notes by Robert Nickora are fine but what’s missing is a discography with recording dates. Westward Ho! Song Wagon of the West is a delight. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sadly now represent what I refer to as “Lost America;” that special part of the American experience where the celebrities we loved were genuinely talented, sincere people, and they entertained us tirelessly. Roy Rogers offered a smooth, polished singing voice, one that matched his All-American good looks. His voice was instantly recognizable to several generations of fans who grew up watching his films and television show. Happy Trails!