Handsome Harry: A Novel

Handsome Harry: A Novel

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by James Carlos Blake

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Harry Pierpont and John Dillinger were die-hard and deadly partners who made national headlines with their daring bank hold-ups and gun battles — and they had a lot of laughs while they were at it. They were known as the Dillinger Gang but at its heart was "Handsome Harry" Pierpont — tough, fearless, intelligent, and sworn to live by no law but his own.

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Harry Pierpont and John Dillinger were die-hard and deadly partners who made national headlines with their daring bank hold-ups and gun battles — and they had a lot of laughs while they were at it. They were known as the Dillinger Gang but at its heart was "Handsome Harry" Pierpont — tough, fearless, intelligent, and sworn to live by no law but his own. Presented as his intimate "confessions," Harry's story takes us from his teenage days as a small-time crook to his fateful meeting with the equally young Dillinger to the pinnacle of his notoriety, and to his final hours in the penitentiary death house.

Crafted in James Carlos Blake's signature style of fast-paced violence, sizzling sex, and darkly raucous humor, Handsome Harry re-creates a thrilling chapter from the chronicles of American crime.

Editorial Reviews

USA Today
James Carlos Blake's story reads like a Warner Bros. gangster movie from the 1930s, imaginatively re-created in the pages of this engrossing novel.

Filled with hoodlums who are violent but honorable, their beautiful molls and plenty of sex and violence, the book makes rooting for these murderous rascals more fun than it ought to be. — David Montgomery

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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 ofelectric storytelling. Author tour

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

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Handsome Harry
A Novel

Chapter One The Joints

It was grand.

Every single time it was grand. I loved the moment when you announce the stickup and everything suddenly goes brighter and sharper and the world seems to spin faster. You show them the gun and say hand it over and there's no telling what's going to happen in the next tick of the clock.

I always expected somebody to say Not on your life, Mac, and go for his piece, but it never happened — not counting the time I told the sheriff to hand over John. It never happened with money. They always handed over the money. That was the easy part. Then you had to get away. That's when things sometimes became very intense indeed, and the notion of present moment took on meanings you felt in your blood.

I've never understood how somebody could simply hand it over and leave it at that. If somebody ever stuck a gun in my face and said give me the money, I'd say sure thing — and then the minute the guy took his eyes off me I'd yank out my piece and pop him. Any man who doesn't keep a gun handy to protect himself and what's his is a fool. Deeds and titles and bills of sale be damned, nobody really owns anything in this world except what he can keep others from taking away, and I mean robbers, bankers, judges, or government agents.

Even if I didn't have a gun on me and somebody tried to hold me up, as soon I saw a chance to jump him I'd do it. I'd let him have it with whatever was at hand — a chair, a bottle, a fork. I'd go at him fists, feet, and teeth.

You can't let a guy rob you without putting up a fight. It isn't self-respecting.


Even before I went to the joint for the first time I'd stolen so many cars I'd lost count. It was a snap. I swiped my first when I was sixteen — a spanking new Model T roadster, a nifty little thing. A pal named Eddie Rehnquist and I went rambling in it all over three counties before it somehow ended up in the Wildcat River. After that first one, whenever I needed a car to get somewhere, I'd pick one out and take it. If I had a date with some special girl I wanted to impress, I'd grab a Packard or a Buick or a Cadillac, something classy, even though fancy cars were easier for the cops to track down.

Like the Packard I was driving when I had my first close call with a stolen car. It was the same shade of smoky yellow as the hair on the honey snugged up beside me and saying she wished her friends could see her now. Then a cop car came up behind us and turned on its flash. I'd snatched the Packard a few hours earlier on the other side of town but had been in too much of a hurry to swap the plates. The girl took a gander at the cops and asked me if we were speeding. I said we are now — and floored the accelerator and we barreled past a stop sign, just barely avoiding a collision. We went tearing through the streets, making lefts and rights that had us leaning one way and then the other. The girl was shrieking and citizens were gawking from the sidewalks. When I didn't see the cops in the mirror any more I slowed down and made a nice easy turn and stayed under the speed limit for a few blocks so we wouldn't attract further notice, then pulled into an alley and stopped. The girl was crying so hard she could hardly breathe. I gave her my handkerchief and a kiss on the ear, then got out and hopped over a fence and made myself scarce. The next day's newspaper carried a report about the chase. The cops had found the Packard a few minutes after I amscrayed, the girl still sitting in it and bawling her eyes out. She ratted me right away, telling them I was Len Richardson, which was the name I'd given her, and that she'd known me for only an hour, which was true. The report included a photograph of her in the backseat of the police car, her face turned directly toward the camera. She didn't seem to be wishing her friends could see her now.

Not that I ever needed a fancy car to get a girl's attention. My looks could always do the trick. My mother said that the minute she laid eyes on my newborn self, on my fair hair and baby blues, she knew I'd never lack for female notice. She was right.

However, every jewel has its flaw, and in the interest of total honesty I have to confess that mine was in my feet. I was born with the second and third toes on each foot grown together. The toe tips were small but distinct and each one had its own nail, but there was only a bare hint of a groove where the toes should have separated from each other. Siamese toes, Red Hamilton would call them. My parents never made much of this abnormality and so neither did I, nobody did — until one summer day in Muncie when I was fifteen and a bunch of us were playing baseball in a park by the river.

I was playing barefoot like always because I could run faster without shoes. And this kid named Sorenson, whom I'd seen around but didn't know very well, suddenly points at my feet and hollers Hey, you guys, look here! Look at the freak!

Handsome Harry
A Novel
. Copyright © by James Blake. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

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.

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