Three tales that take the reader through the noir corridors of violated innocence, abuse and murderous revenge
FATHER DIVINE’S BIKES is a novel that melds a gangster war, three murders, a gun-toting paperboy, and the numbers racket with the dark, compelling story of two altar boys adrift in a world of poverty and hopelessness. Police-protected bookmakers and numbers banks share the crime-infested Third Ward with Jewish bathhouses, Voodoo shamans, Yiddish pushcart vendors and abandoned mansions. Corruption is endemic.
In the autumn of 1945, a battle rages when the city’s competing mobs end their truce. When it gets bloody, other criminal forces are ready to move in. Black bookies using Father Divine’s controversial International Peace Mission Movement as a front, recruit JOEY BANCIK and RICHIE MAXWELL to run numbers under the guise of newspaper routes.
Joey and Richie live in a shrinking white enclave where families welcome the few bucks their numbers-running kids put on the table. They are now petty criminals. FATHER TERRY NOLAN, their parish priest, and two homicide detectives, LT. NICK CISCO and SGT. KEVIN MCCLOSKY, fear the numbers racket will entrap them in a world of crime.
Cisco and McClosky are certain that the mob turf war and three of the Third Ward murders they are investigating are connected, and that a sadistic police captain has been pulling the strings for the gangsters. Cisco doesn’t want the kids hurt, but is reluctant to turn the matter over to a corrupt vice squad, long on the take with the mob.
The two detectives track Joey to a luxury apartment, arriving too late to prevent the tragedy that Cisco had foreseen. Joey’s body lay in a pool of blood on the basement floor, a gaping bullet wound in his chest, result of a wild shot by a panic-stricken beat cop, FRANK GAZZI. A few feet away is the body of a newspaper executive, a bullet in his brain accidentally put there when he reached to grab a pistol from one of his newsboys.
As an Urban Affairs investigative reporter for the Associated Press, I covered urban unrest extensively. In 1967, Newark was devastated by one of the deadliest race riots during that turbulent decade. More than twenty persons were killed and entire neighborhoods reduced to ashes, including the one where I grew up. When I returned to Newark and walked up Springfield Avenue, I was sickened by what I saw. Everything was gone. How did this happen? My story takes the reader down the streets of post-World War II Newark when there was time to set things right, but the city blew it.
What fun! Very cinematic. If asked to compare “Father Divine’s Bike” to something, I would say E.L. Doctorow’s “Billy Bathgate” or “Ragtime.” The parts that really came alive for me were when the kids were playing stoop ball, and when they climbed up the fire escape on that building, when they were just running around the neighborhood being kids. I think the reason these stayed with me is that the camera was back up to capture the world they were in, the landscape, the buildings. I enjoyed seeing how the neighborhood was changing. How the buildings got sold. How the job of rent collection fell to thugs. How corruption colored everything.
Barb Johnson, author of “More of This World or Maybe Another and winner of American Library Association’s Barbara Gittings Literature Award.”
Veteran television journalist Steve Bassett puts his considerable storytelling skills to work in “Father Divine’s Bike,” a tragic coming of age saga involving two Catholic altar boys. .. Bassett weaves a story of triumph, regret and tragedy. The boys’ Catholic roots fail them in their time of need. Instead they are unwittingly seduced by the aura spread throughout Newark by Father Divine, the spellbinding black evangelist. It’s a book you won’t want to put down.
Pete Noyes, award winning journalist and author of “The Real L.A. Confidential”
Father Divine’s Bike carries you along the well orchestrated plot of Bassett’s protagonist, Richie Maxwell. In voicings of character and place, Maxwell takes you along on his quest to obtain the promise of “heaven on earth.” In rhythm and tone Bassett achieves a counterpoint that moves the reader between contrasting themes of class and privilege, poverty and wealth, despair and hope. Caught up by the hustle of Father Divine’s “heaven on earth,” Richie Maxwell becomes ensnared in a hustle of his own making that transports him to a reality just north of hell, on a bike that costs more than he could ever imagine.
Paul Pattwell, Library Administrator, Newark Public Library, former manager of the New Jersey Information Center, an archive for Newark and New Jersey history.
I have finally settled into reading his novel and I love it!!! I am enjoying it so. I love the milieu, the dialogue, the characters, the story, everything. I can't wait to finish it and pass it on to my husband who will love it as well. He may even recognize some of the characters from hearing his father's and grandfather's stories of growing up poor in Philadelphia, which wasn't all that different from Newark. I love Steve's style and I find it very readable and very, very cinematic. Has he given thought to rewriting it as a screenplay. I really think it would make a great film!!!
Marsha Pincus, retired Philadelphia Public School teacher and writer.
In Development. Coming in 2019