Paperback: 188 pages
Publisher: Airship 27 (December 15, 2012)
I’m going to get to talking about PROHIBITION in a bit, I promise. But first, I gotta relate a little story that will assist me in making my opening point. Okay? Thank you for your patience and sit back. Here it goes:
Couple of weeks ago I’m having a Skype conversation with a gentleman who is incensed that I don’t like “Hobo With A Shotgun.” It’s a perfect modern grindhouse movie he insists. No, I politely disagree. “Planet Terror” is a a perfect modern grindhouse movie. The gentleman spends the next two minutes expressing his opinion that whatever it is I allegedly use for thinking must be composed of excrement and another minute telling me that “Planet Terror” is garbage and why on Earth do I think it’s the better movie.
“Because,” says I, “Robert Rodriguez knows what grindhouse is. The guys who made ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ just think they know what grindhouse is.”
Which finally brings me to PROHIBITION by Terrence McCauley. We’ve got a lot of New Pulp writers who think they know what a 1930’s gangster story is. But Terrence McCauley knows what a 1930’s gangster story. Man, does he ever.
We’re in New York, 1930. The town is run by Archie Doyle, the city’s most powerful gangster who is more like the monarch of an unruly kingdom. And there’s somebody out there looking to take his crown. Archie’s got an ambitious plan in mind that will give him more power than he’s ever dreamed of before. But he’s got to stay alive long enough to see that plan through. That’s where his chief enforcer Terry Quinn comes in. Terry’s an ex-boxer and the toughest mug on two legs. But finding out who’s trying to start a bloody gang war between Archie Doyle and his main rival, Howard Rothman is going to take more than just being tough. Quinn is going to have to rely on his street smarts and think his way through this. Of course, shooting and slugging his way to the guilty party helps an awful lot, too.
PROHIBITION has a lot going for it, mainly that McCauley isn’t afraid to write characters who aren’t likeable at all. But that’s okay with me. As long as I know why the characters are doing what they’re doing and understand their motivations, I’m cool. McCauley is writing about people who have chosen a dark, dangerous and violent life and he stays true to that. That’s not to say he doesn’t find the humanity in them. He does. It’s just a humanity that manifests itself within the terms and parameters of the concrete jungle his characters have chosen to inhabit for whatever reasons people have to live a life of crime. This wasn’t an easy period in American history to live in and people had to make hard choices. The characters in PROHIBITION have to make the hardest choices of all since the wrong one can get them killed.
A lot of New Pulp writers figure that to write a 1930’s gangster story you just have to have pseudo-tough talking wanna-be’s sounding more like Slip Mahoney than real gangsters run around shooting Tommy guns. McCauley understands that the most successful gangsters of that era ran their organizations like businesses. The business just happens to be crime is all. Violence wasn’t their first resort to solve every problem. It was just as useful and as profitable to know when not to use violence as it was to know when to use it.
I appreciated the smartness of these characters. The way they talk to each other, maneuvering to gain an edge through words makes for some really solid dialog. The relationship between Archie Doyle and Terry Quinn reminds me a lot of the relationship between the Albert Finney/Gabriel Byrne characters from “Miller’s Crossing.” Imagine if Gabriel Byrne’s character was an authentic badass who knew how to fight instead of getting his ass kicked all the time and you’ll get what I mean. Terry Quinn is a guy who knows how to work the angles and his navigation through this gleefully violent story is an enjoyable one to read.
And like any good gangster story, McCauley doesn’t skimp on the sex and violence. If you want cute gangsters who pal around and crack jokes then go watch “Johnny Dangerously” because you’re not going to find that in PROHIBITION. I appreciated the tough, hard story McCauley is telling and the even tougher, harder characters who speak and talk pretty much the way I expect gangsters of that era to behave.
I’m sure that there are some who are going to be uncomfortable or even turned off by the language and that there isn’t really an ‘heroic’ character to root for. Terry Quinn is a killer and extraordinarily violent man who doesn’t make apologies for how he lives his life. Most readers like to have a lead character to root for and while Terry’s misplaced sense of honor and loyalty lifts him a notch above most of the other characters in the book that doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near being on the side of the angels. But it’s precisely because of that misplaced honor and loyalty that makes him such an enjoyable protagonist to read about.
And I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Rob Moran which do an excellent job of capturing the mood and feel of the story. I’m willing to bet next month’s rent that Rob Moran has seen a lot of those great classic Warner Brothers black-and-white gangster epics of the 30’s and 40’s as that’s the feeling I got from his illustrations.
So should you read PROHIBITION? Absolutely. It’s not only a terrific way to spend a couple of quality reading hours, it’s also an important book in the evolution of New Pulp. It’s exciting to see books like this that adds another genre to expand what New Pulp is and can be. The bread-and-butter of New Pulp are the masked avengers, the jungle lords and the scientific adventurers, sure. But there’s plenty of room for sports stories, romance, westerns and private eyes. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen those. Hard-boiled crime stories are just as much a Classic Pulp tradition and I’m delighted to see it being continued and represented in New Pulp. Most definitely put PROHIBITION on your Must Read List.