Kelly has moved beyond the promise of Apalachinok? spok and Protection ; his latest delivers big. Two laconic, supple voices give us different views of John Dillinger's life: one is a third-person account of Dillinger's last 14 months in 1933-1934, while the second comes from an unnamed narrator who joins a Midwest traveling circus after he's been mistaken for the famous fugitive, putting together a ``Dillinger Alive'' act. The book moves seamlessly between the two perspectives (at one point we read more than a page about a bank robbery before realizing it's part of the circus act) and different times (the narrator often speaks to us today). There are some remarkable set pieces: an old Frank James lecturing on brother Jesse; the protracted death of a gang member; the 1973 remembrance of a robbery hostage, a grandmother whose ``slender legs still suggested what a number she must have been, what a dancer.'' And always we're aware of the Depression's terrible effect. The narrator's affair with an aerialist's wife who portrays ``Billie Frechette'' in his act strangely reflects Dillinger's affair with the real Billie, whom the narrator meets a few years later, putting further spin on the book's clever toying with time and reality. The narrator admires the circus elephants who act with ``bored nonchalance,'' as if ``they're putting one over on the suckers.'' But readers get their full money's worth here. (Mar.)
Mad Dog is John Dillinger, the last in a line of peculiarly American heroes descended from Jesse James and lionized because they dared defy a system unresponsive to the needs of the common folk. The narrator is ``The Man Who Looked Like John Dillinger'' in a carnival act touring the Midwest at the height of Dillinger's hold on the nation's imagination. The device of an actor's attempt to come to grips with his character's psyche enables us to get a much deeper insight into Dillinger's life and times. Dillinger's story is interspersed with the narrator's uneasy attempt to find love, fame, and fortune by adopting the notorious outlaw's identity. When the playacting becomes too real, we learn that lies and deceit can be as dangerous as Baby Face Nelson's tommy gun. Kelly has told a familiar tale with enough verve and imagination to make it fresh and up to date. Recommended.-- Dan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, Pa.