A premier writer of historical thrillers, Atkins (Devil's Garden; Wicked City) takes his readers back to the 1930s in this mad romp through the South and Midwest following George "Machine Gun" Kelly (1900–54) as he plans and executes his ultimate caper. A moonshine runner-turned-bank robber, Kelly plans a final job: the kidnapping and ransom of Oklahoma oil magnate Charles Urshel. Neither the meanest nor the cleverest of gangsters, Kelly nevertheless pulls off the perfect abduction, only to see it fall apart at the seams as his gangster friends manipulate to cut themselves into the action, his wife undercuts him for her own ends, and a persistent FBI agent stalks him relentlessly, closing the net ever tighter. It is a precocious 12-year-old who ultimately provides the key to Kelly's capture and conviction. VERDICT This tough, boisterous, lustful tale of a would-be playboy miscast as villain compares to the best of Max Allan Collins or Elmore Leonard and will appeal to adult readers who like their gangster stories based on fact.—Thomas L. Kilpatrick, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Libs., Carbondale
In his compulsively readable latest, Atkins (Devil's Garden, 2009, etc.) takes a revisionist look at the life and times of Machine Gun Kelly and the very bad woman who stood behind him. "Poor George Kelly," commiserates the author in a sort of preamble to his novel. Overshadowed by such Depression-era icons of iniquity as John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson, he's been consigned to the dustbins of gangster history. But the truth is Kelly never had much gangster in him. Yes, he liked the ill-gotten gains part, the loot that could be lavished on fast cars and flashy women. What he lacked was the ambition and, for that matter, the meanness required for world-class wickedness. His beautiful wife had that in spades. Kelly's "one big score," for instance, was conceived, planned and, to all intents and purposes, carried through by the iron-willed Kit Kelly. To George, the kidnapping of oil magnate Charles Urschel was the kind of caper he relished reading about in the true-crime magazines while knowing in his timorous heart of hearts that he lacked the capability. To Kit, though, whose thirst for headline ink was unquenchable, snatching a multimillionaire was merely the means to a destined end. "Jean Harlow is famous," an admiring friend tells her. "Kit Kelly is infamous." Sweet music, but there are active anti-choristers. Among them, count a pair of stone killers quick to consider $200,000 worth of ransom money-a mighty large ticket in those hardscrabble days-as targets of opportunity. Bullets fly, gore puddles and, as the denouement approaches, oh how those pages turn. Atkins, who loves his characters colorful, makes readers love them too, and it doesn't much matter whether they're naughty ornice.
Set in 1933, Atkins's winning fourth history-based novel focuses on two figures who, as the author explains in an introduction, have been undeservedly “lost in the shuffle of Depression-era gangsters”: George Kelly, who ironically gets saddled with the nickname “Machine Gun,” and his wife, Kathryn. The fast-moving narrative spans a three-month period, starting with a fatal ambush in a parking lot outside Kansas City's Union Station in which hoods gun down several lawmen and the prisoner they were about to drive to Leavenworth. This massacre leads to the FBI obtaining the authority to make arrests and carry weapons. The bulk of the action concerns the Kellys' kidnapping of Charles Urschel, a wealthy Oklahoma oilman, and its aftermath. Atkins (Devil's Garden) brings to vivid life the henpecked George and the bloodthirsty Kathryn as he convincingly conjures up a past era. Not just for crime fans, this should appeal to a wide readership. (Apr.)
Praise for Infamous
“In his compulsively readable latest, Atkins takes a revisionist look at the life and times of Machine Gun Kelly and the very bad woman who stood behind him....Bullets fly, gore puddles and, as the denouement approaches, oh how those pages turn. Atkins, who loves his characters colorful, makes readers love them too, and it doesn’t much matter whether they’re naughty or nice.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Atkins brings to vivid life the henpecked George and the bloodthirsty Kathryn as he convincingly conjures up a past era. Not just for crime fans, this should appeal to a wide readership.”—Publishers Weekly
“It’s Atkins’ prodigious research that makes this novel a compelling road trip through Depression-era America. He vividly portrays the Dust Bowl, foreclosures, the grinding poverty, gnawing hunger, desperation, and the rage at bankers (most of which resonate in today’s America); and he captures the imminent end of the gangsters’ heyday. Like many fine historical crime novels, Infamous offers a window on society, then and now.”—Booklist